You might have thought federal officials would have learned something from the spectacular failure called Prohibition.
America’s 13-year ban on alcohol ended 85 years ago, to be sure. But there are plenty of historic books with the relevant details.
We were reminded of Prohibition last week when Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama administration policy that discouraged U.S. attorneys from prosecuting people for marijuana sales in states, such as Oregon, where the drug is legal for both medicinal and recreational use.
Fortunately it appears that Sessions’ decision does not signify the Trump administration’s intent to aggressively pursue pot cases that don’t involve violations of state laws. U.S. attorneys, some of whom were appointed by Barack Obama, will have discretion about enforcing the federal law under which marijuana remains illegal. Some legal experts said they don’t expect a major increase in marijuana-related prosecutions.
Billy Williams, the U.S. Attorney for Oregon, said last week that his office will continue to focus on “stemming the overproduction of marijuana and the diversion of marijuana out of state, dismantling criminal organizations and thwarting violent crime in our communities.”
To put it another way, the top federal prosecutor in the state will go after criminals, not people who are following the edicts of Oregon’s pot laws that were decided on by the state’s residents.
We think that’s the proper approach.
Certainly the comparison between Prohibition and marijuana legalization isn’t perfect.
In the case of alcohol, the federal government banned the production and sale of alcoholic beverages.
With marijuana, voters in several states, Oregon among them, decided to legalize recreational use of pot, a drug that has long been deemed illicit under federal law.
Where we see a parallel is the possibility of the federal government spending considerable sums of money to try to control how adults use an intoxicant.
What the nation experienced between 1920 and 1933 — a wave of crime resulting from the ineffective ban on a product that had previously been legal — suggests that effort is likely to be futile as well as expensive.
From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.