There’s been a showdown of sorts between the State of California, which has all but legalized marijuana and now will be considering a ballot measure to make even recreation use of the drug legal, and the federal government which has attempted to trump California’s laws before and is now threatening legal action if the aforementioned ballot measure is approved.
Now, as a rule, conservatives generally aren’t kosher with pot smoking. But I’m not asking that conservatives like or approve of pot smoking. I’m asking that conservatives be supportive of California’s attempts to settle the pot smoking issue for itself. Because the precedents set in California’s battles against federal drug policy are important for other state vs. federal legal battles.
Such as the legal battle against the federal government over Obamacare that dozens of states in the union have taken up. Or the legal battle against the federal government’s authority to regulate carbon emissions. Or the federal government’s authority to impose all sorts of policies on the states.
Recently the North Dakota Policy Council held an event called the Free Market Forum at which author and scholar Tom Woods spoke about the topic of his latest book called Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century (watch video of his speech here).
Nullification is, essentially, the right of the states to ignore federal laws when a given state deems that law to be unconstitutional. It’s based on the reality that federal power is a derivative of state power. The federal government was created through the union of the states, and thus federal power is derived from that union which is expressed through the Constitution. If the federal government does things that are extra-constitutional, the states need not go along.
California has essentially done this with drug laws. The federal government has issued dire warnings about the state’s policies allowing medicinal use of marijuana, and the state has simply ignored them and pushed forward toward full-scale legalization.
Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Tennessee have all passed state laws exempting guns made, sold and possessed within their borders from federal regulation with Wyoming go so far as to say that any federal official attempting to enforce federal policies on these exempted firearms would be arrested.
In Minnesota, state legislator and current candidate for governor Tom Emmer proposed legislation that would have exempted incandescent light bulbs manufactured and sold in the state from a federal ban.
I could go on citing examples, but you get the point. More and more this sort of state-level push back is becoming a part of mainstream American discourse after too-long an absence. There’s nothing extreme or objectionable about it. Indeed, it’s the very sort of federalist principle that founders like Thomas Jefferson and Madison supported. Both, specifically, wrote on the subject of nullification and supported it.
So whether or not you agree with marijuana legalization, if you believe in a constitutionally-constrained federal government you should be cheering on California’s pot smokers.
October 21, 2010