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Marijuana votes present interesting prospects

November 14, 2012


Now that voters in the states of Colorado and Washington have approved legalizing the sale of marijuana in their states, there is the inevitable showdown between these new state laws and current federal law that makes marijuana sales illegal in all states.

The laws passed in both states last week allow the recreational use of marijuana and require that the states set up a bureaucracy to license, regulate and tax those sales. That system is expected to be at least similar to the bureaucracies that exist in states to license, regulate and tax the sales of liquor, wine and beer.

In few states is the enforcement of state liquor and beer sale laws more interesting, more convoluted and more complex than in Mississippi —where the “local option” laws regulating the sale of liquor and beer produce nothing less than a patchwork quilt of “wet” and “dry” jurisdictions.

In Mississippi, you have every possible combination across the state’s 82 counties. There are counties that are “wet” on beer and “dry” on liquor. There are cities that are “wet” on beer or liquor in “dry” counties. There are “split” counties in which the half the county is “wet” and half is “dry.” There are “dry” counties that are “wet” in so-called “resort” areas.

There are airports in “dry” jurisdictions that are “wet.” With all those crazy variations through the “local option” and the strange way that Mississippi voters choose to exercise those options, there’s the “patchwork quilt” designation on Mississippi’s liquor and beer laws.

Can you imagine, gentle reader, if Mississippi were ever to follow Colorado and Washington voters in marking marijuana sales legal? One would need a map, a divining rod, two interpreters, a guide dog and a bodyguard just to drive from one end of the state to the other.

Wet. Dry. High. Not high. What county is this? Are we outside of the city limits? The mind reels…

Luckily, there’s more likelihood that I’ll grow a full head of hair by next week than there is that Mississippi voters will legalize marijuana sales in any form in my lifetime. The political dynamic that has historically made liquor and beer referendums interesting — the point at which the interests of Mississippi’s people of faith and Mississippi’s bootleggers intersect — would likely remain visible.

I’ll still bet on Mississippi’s people of faith to win that political battle hands down. I’d also bet on Marshall Fisher and the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics to carry the day on the secular side of that culture war.

So while there’s virtually no chance that Mississippi will be similarly situated in terms of our voters choosing to legalize the sale of pot, the unfolding standoff in Colorado and Washington will remain a source of no small amount of interest for those interested in the conflict of federal and state laws.

Congress deemed marijuana as a Schedule l controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act back in 1970. So the fact that the sale, possession and use of marijuana is a violation of federal law is not a point of any serious debate. So the question becomes just how the Obama administration U.S. Justice Department will handle the conflict.

The Colorado and Washington laws legalized marijuana sales regardless of purpose. Some 18 states have adopted laws legalizing the use of “medical marijuana.” In California — the first state to pass such a law — the state primarily left regulation to individual cities. The result has been a hodgepodge of federal raids and attempts at federal prosecutions.

But for now, be thankful that the only “patchwork quilt” of laws that Mississippians have to navigate are those regulating booze and beer sales, not marijuana.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or

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