Federalism is a simple concept: The states, not the federal government, should control most issues.
Unfortunately, America has long since abandoned most forms of Federalism. Most laws and policies in this nation come from Washington. But there is a fight over Federalism coming over, of all things, marijuana.
In the past, the only people on the right side of the political spectrum who spoke favorably about marijuana were Libertarians, creating the lasting impression the only issue they were really interested in was getting stoned. But there is a much deeper issue that should interest all conservatives.
That idea is Federalism.
Twenty-six states have passed statutes that legalize marijuana to some extent. Some have legalized it for recreational use. Others have only legalized it for medical purposes. Yet, marijuana possession remains a crime on the federal books. One of the dirty secrets of the law is that every state makes it illegal to sell, deliver, possess with the intent to sell or deliver or manufacture controlled substances. So, does the Federal government.
The United States is battling — unsuccessfully — an opioid epidemic. Lives are being lost, people are suffering and crime is increasing because of addiction. Yet our nation’s top leaders have been nearly useless in forming a coherent strategy to combat the opioid plague.
Instead, the nation’s head law enforcement officer, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is obsessed with marijuana use and now is allowing federal prosecutors to go after marijuana-related crimes in states where its sale is legal. The Obama-era policy being reversed had discouraged federal prosecutors from bringing such charges, letting states experiment with legalization of marijuana. That has led to a growing movement — the entire West Coast has legalized recreational pot sales — and Colorado, was a pioneer.
The drug crisis in the United States is not being fueled by the use of marijuana. It is about addiction to opioids, whether heroin, prescription painkillers, illegally manufactured fentanyl or other such drugs. So great is the epidemic that drug overdoses have become the leading cause of death among Americans under 50. A New York Times report put deaths from opioid overdoses at 59,000 in 2016, a jump of 19 percent.
This return to a misguided war on all drugs is a step backward for a nation still staggering from the damage from the first go-round against drugs in the 1960s and 1970s. Sessions is wrong in his approach, and President Donald Trump, by allowing this move, is breaking from earlier statements that marijuana laws should be left to the states.
U.S Attorney for the District of Oregon, Billy J. Williams, responded to the memo by saying that the Attorney General is asking that U.S Attorneys use the reasoned exercise of discretion when pursuing prosecutions related to marijuana crimes.
“We will continue working with our federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partners to pursue shared public safety objectives, with an emphasis on stemming the overproduction of marijuana and the diversion of marijuana out of state, dismantling criminal organizations and thwarting violent crime in our communities,” Williams said.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in response to Sessions' memorandum, “My staff and state agencies are working to evaluate reports of the Attorney General's decision and will fight to continue Oregon's commitment to a safe and prosperous recreational marijuana market,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said.
According to Brown Oregon’s marijuana industry has created over 19,000 jobs since it was legalized in 2015.
Senator Jeff Merkley said, “There is nothing to be gained from going back to an era when federal resources were wasted prosecuting nonviolent cannabis crimes. This decision will create massive uncertainty, hurt local businesses and tax revenue, and harm public safety by driving cannabis activity back into the more dangerous black market. The Justice Department should immediately reverse this misguided decision and honor Trump’s campaign commitment, and I will keep fighting to make this happen.”
According to Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, the state of Oregon received over $60 million in state taxes from the recreational marijuana industry.
“At the Oregon Department of Justice we will continue to make sure Oregon’s marijuana industry thrives under our carefully considered state regulatory requirements. This is an industry that Oregonians have chosen — and one I will do everything within my legal authority to protect,” Rosenblum said.
In December, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden became the first U.S senator to co-sponsor New Jersey senator Cory Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act, which would make marijuana legal at the federal level and incentivize states through federal funds to change their marijuana laws.
“Opening the door to go after legal marijuana businesses ignores the will of the majority of Americans and marks yet another socially unjust and and economically backward scheme from this administration,” Wyden said.
Coos County Sherriff Craig Zanni said, “This is currently a federal issue related to a change of federal prosecutor’s directives. We have and will continue to handle violations of the criminal statutes. As such, we have no information upon which we could draw a conclusions or policies related to this matter at this time.”
Since 2014, the Department of Justice has been prevented from prosecuting medical marijuana businesses, thanks to amendments offered by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California. Unfortunately, last year to Congress demanding that the Rohrabacher amendment not be included in this year’s budget.
In early September, the House leadership blocked a vote that would have allowed Mr. Rohrabacher’s amendment to be included in legislation. As of now, the almost three-year prohibition against the federal government prosecuting medical marijuana businesses in states that have legalized it, will soon come to an end.
For Republicans who talk about small government, Federalism and draining the swamp, this is pretty much the height of hypocrisy.
Leave decisions about marijuana to the states.