Immigration isn’t the only issue over which the state of California has set up a fight with the federal government. Marijuana, for both medical and recreational use, is legal in the state and a bill has been introduced to the assembly which would effectively prevent the enforcement of federal laws that criminalize the cultivation, sale, and use of the crop.
The question of states’ rights is front and center, once again, as it is with laws regarding immigration, gun-control, environmental regulations, same-sex marriage, and several other issues. From a political perspective, both left and right weave inconsistently back and forth between federal and state authority, depending on their respective viewpoints. Liberals and conservatives both invoke the phrase “well; it’s the (federal) law” when it suits them but then champion states’ rights when it does not. Such discrepancies must always come back to the Constitution and, some would argue (but, again, only when it suites them) the rulings of the Supreme Court.
The highest court in the land, however, is not infallible: Opponents of President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law still maintain that the Supreme Court got it wrong and that, under the Constitution, the federal government cannot force private citizens or businesses to purchase certain good or services. Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stated, in October of 2016, that the Supreme Court was “wrong on the Second Amendment.” So, neither side can claim consistency on the issues that bring state and federal legislatures into conflict.
Constitutionally, immigration law and gun ownership are two areas that stand out as being completely within the purview of the federal government; immigration, because it is inextricably linked to national security and gun ownership because it is guaranteed and protected by the Bill of Rights.
Marijuana has been legalized for medical and recreational purposes in several states but, at the federal level, the growth, sale, possession and use of the substance is still illegal. Certainly, congressional Republicans oppose the legalization of pot. Their Democratic counterparts have made no effort to legalize it, either. It certainly appears that corporate interests are behind the reluctance of both parties to change the existing laws. The only argument consistently used against the legalization of pot is that it is a ‘gateway drug’ that leads the user to abuse of more dangerous narcotics. The majority of pot-smokers, who have no interest in cocaine, heroin or any of their derivatives, know that this is, by and large, a false narrative; certainly, it does not hold up to legal standards.
Introduced in mid-February, California’s Assembly Bill 1578 prevents law enforcement and other local agencies from cooperating with federal agencies seeking to “investigate, detain, report, or arrest” anyone for activities involving marijuana – both commercial and non-commercial – according to an article in the Huffington Post.
In a country that accepts the universal availability of alcohol – the world’s most socially destructive drug – to anyone over the age of 21, there seems to be little justification for the criminalization of marijuana. According to another Huffington Post report, two Democrats have introduced bills in the U.S. Senate that would alter the way Marijuana would be classified and regulated. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) are hoping their proposals will bring state and federal legislation on the issue closer together. Blumenauer says, in a statement, “As more states follow Oregon’s leadership in legalizing and regulating marijuana, too many people are trapped between federal and state laws. It’s not right, and it’s not fair.” The principle change in federal law would be to remove marijuana from the list of most dangerous drugs, as defined by the Controlled Substance Act.
Putting aside the ‘gateway drug’ theory, Marijuana has a far less negative effect on society than alcohol. Although there have been efforts to prove the negative long-term health implications of smoking marijuana, one can still compare those to the health issues of heavy and long-term alcohol consumption. In doing so, we are, once again, faced with the question: If we accept alcohol, why do we not accept marijuana? It presents the potential for thriving private industry, additional tax revenue, medical benefits and it would remove a major component of the massive criminal enterprise of drug trafficking.
Decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level would be a victory for states’ rights, individual liberty, crime-fighting and incarceration levels. Why, it must be asked, is such a measure not worth advancing?