Two stories published last week perfectly sum up the state of American drug policy. On Friday, Colorado released its first annual report on the state of the marijuana industry, which sold 17 tons of weed worth $700 million last year. That same day The Daily Beast reported on the case of Fate Vincent Winslow, a homeless man who in 2008 sold $20 worth of weed to an undercover cop and is currently serving a life sentence for it.
In one state, selling millions of dollars of weed will earn you a seat at the Cannabis Chamber of Commerce and the chance to hobnob with politicians and celebrities. But in another, possession or sale of the smallest quantities of pot can trigger the application of mandatory sentencing laws, especially if you have previous convictions on your record.
So far, Congress and the Justice Department have largely played a "wait and see" game when it comes to the application of federal laws to state drug policy. They're not overtly acting against states that choose to legalize, but they're also not working to resolve discrepancies between state and federal law either.
This is a fairly sensible approach, as far as things go. The federal government is a slow-moving beast. After decades of enthusiastic prosecution of the Drug War, you can't expect it to turn on a dime.
But juxtapositions like this one are jarring, and it's hard to see how you can argue that justice is being served when you have such radically different outcomes for the same behavior. To avoid these inequalities, it may be best if Congress steps in sooner, rather than later.
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