• Focus on non-criminal actions to make life difficult for the distributors who pop up – threatening to seize all their assets, or cracking down on the landlords or banks who work with them, or enforcing the tax code that bars drug distributors from making deductions for business expenses.
• Compromise by focusing only on certain egregious activities – distributors who look like they're shipping marijuana out of state, for instance, or who are selling to minors.
• Direct federal prosecutors to use their discretionary power and largely ignore marijuana cases in those states that allow its use.
• Threaten to withhold federal funds from local and state police offices that don't enforce federal drug laws.
• Amend federal law to specifically exempt states that allow marijuana use from federal drug prosecution.
• Decide to reschedule or deschedule marijuana as a schedule I narcotic.
Many of these options, of course, aren't very likely. Don't hold your breath waiting for the federal government to decriminalize marijuana anytime soon.
And all of them have some complications or challenges associated with them.
For one thing, the federal government has limited resources, and pursuing large criminal cases against distributors or growers is expensive.
If the feds want to crack down on distributors, it's far more likely they'll go less expensive routes, with things like civil forfeiture, says Robert Mikos, a law professor at Vanderbilt University who specializes in federalism and criminal law.