Opinion: Marijuana conflict can be solved with federal legalization
BY MILES SCHNEIDERMAN —
Stoners, rejoice! After the states of Washington and Colorado voted to legalize marijuana in 2012, pretty much everyone was expecting some serious backlash from the federal government. It seems as though ever since “Reefer Madness” and the so-called “War on Drugs,” the question of legalizing recreational marijuana use has never been seriously considered at the federal level, where even medical marijuana is still considered a criminal substance. There was no way the feds were going to let Washington and Colorado off the hook. Yet they seem to have done just that. The Justice Department announced this past Thursday that it would not challenge the state laws in court, creating a huge and unexpected victory for those in favor of decriminalizing the drug.
Despite this, several prominent lawmakers in our own state of Arizona continue their opposition to decriminalization. On Aug. 30, the Arizona Daily Sun reported a Maricopa County attorney, along with state Attorney General Tom Horne, are still working to have Arizona’s 2010 medical marijuana law declared illegal, and that the attempt would not be altered by the Justice Department’s decision. Their position is, regardless of voter-approved state legislation, marijuana remains an illegal drug at the federal level, and therefore, use of marijuana should be prosecuted. In his words, “The issue is that a state law cannot make legal what a federal makes illegal.” That’s a little rich coming from Tom Horne and the Arizona political right in general, considering what a fuss they’ve made in recent years about states’ rights.
Horne is an opponent of ObamaCare, for example, on the grounds the Constitution gives the states power to do anything that doesn’t relate to the explicit powers of the federal government. There are politicians in Arizona, most notably Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who have openly announced their willingness to defy federal law in favor of state law. When it comes to marijuana, however, federal law is apparently the only thing that matters.
That being said, Tom Horne is actually right. Federal law still doesn’t recognize the legality of marijuana, even for medical uses, and it actually does take precedence over state law thanks to the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. From a legal standpoint, Horne and his colleagues have every right to try and void Arizona’s medical marijuana legislation. The decision made by the Justice Department doesn’t decriminalize the drug in America; it essentially says that it will let the states in question handle their own laws until there is reason for a dispute. The contradiction between state and federal laws in regards to marijuana, however, remains a very real thing.
The fact of the matter is that this issue will not be resolved at the state level. Until marijuana is legalized by the federal government and approved by the federal court system, there will continue to be conflict and confusion, as those who seek to put recreational smokers behind bars are able to justify their intentions with the Supremacy Clause. As Arizona demonstrates, not even medical marijuana laws are safe, much less the recreational usage laws of Washington and Colorado. The Justice Department’s decision certainly seems to indicate the government’s willingness to move toward decriminalization, but the actions of federal law enforcement over the past several years tell a different story. The feds seem honestly torn between listening to the voters, who have approved medical marijuana laws in more than a dozen states, and their long-established war with this particular drug.
It’s time for the federal government to get off the fence. We still claim this country is ruled by and for the people (despite all evidence to the contrary); well, the people have spoken. It’s past time the United States as a whole decriminalized a drug that is statistically far less dangerous than alcohol. Until that happens, Tom Horne will be able to justify his actions against the will of the voting public, and Washington and Colorado will probably be dealing with some dramatic increases in population.