Marijuana and the Rule of Law

Repeal the law. Don't ignore the law. To ignore the law is to put the rule of man over the rule of law.

We are supposedly a nation of laws, not men, but our lawmakers have ensured over the years that we are increasingly at the whim of men, elected or appointed, instead of the law. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has declared that he will reverse an Obama Administration position allowing states to decide on marijuana legalization. Now, local United States Attorneys will be empowered to decide.

But neither the Obama Administration nor Jeff Sessions should do anything other than enforce the law and federal law criminalizes marijuana. The solution here is not to ignore the federal law, but to repeal it. To do otherwise empowers individuals beyond the rule of law and puts the whims of officials ahead of the will of the people.

Near where I live a local police officer pulled over a man for the audacious offense of driving while eating. There was no complaint and there was no evidence that the man was distracted in his driving. But the young police officer decided to use the distracted driving charge to ticket the man, whose local officials eventually threw out the citation. We live in an age where there are more and more complaints of overzealous police officers and overzealous cities nickel and diming the citizenry on old laws.

It is, I am told, against the law in Cleveland, OH to sneeze outdoors. If a police officer wanted to, he could ticket you for sneezing and the burden would be on you to fight the citation. The correct remedy is to repeal a stupid law. Again, as long as the law is on the books it allows a bureaucrat or politician to have extraordinary and capricious control over your life. It allows politicians to change their minds and reverse other policies. It puts men ahead of the law. And our Congress is notoriously good at passing laws then abdicating their constitutional responsibilities to bureaucrats who they can blame at election time.

You may think there is nothing wrong with legalized marijuana. All but three states now have some form of legalized medical marijuana and several states now have legalized recreational marijuana. California is the latest and also a case study in the legalization of marijuana as a new form of revenue and regulation.

Regardless, as long as a federal law is on the books making marijuana possession a criminal act, a bureaucrat in Washington can wipe out the market and a thriving industry. You can scream all you want that they should not do it, but they can and the only thing in life more certain than even death and taxes is that a bureaucrat will act arbitrarily and capriciously when the mood strikes.

This, though, is the logical outcome of the federal government stepping into​ the criminal law field, something our founders would be appalled by. Tough on crime politicians run for federal office insisting they will make federal criminal laws and the result is placing people in situations where they can be prosecuted under a state law, then have a federal prosecutor prosecute them for the same thing when a U.S. Attorney seeks to build his name for his own run for office. No, it is not double jeopardy because the federal government and state governments are separate entities. Ironically, many of the tough on crime politicians getting elected to expand the federal criminal law are also Republican politicians who claim to want to return power to the states.

​When John F. Kennedy was assassinated there was no federal law criminalizing the assassination of a President. Only in 1965 did Congress act. Now we have a federal crime for virtually anything you can think of and federal bureaucrats with their own SWAT teams to enforce not just criminal laws, but bureaucratic regulations.

Congress should scuttle most of the federal criminal law in an effort to restore the balance of power to the states. I am indifferent on marijuana legalization, but many states are not and Congress should let the system and rule of law work instead of undermining the rule of law by empowering the arbitrariness and capriciousness of men.

Comments
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Alex Wilson
Alex Wilson

I have no problem with an administration refusing to enforce a law that has been wrongly found constitutional. In my view regulation of drug use is outside the legitimate power of the Federal government, so any laws and regulation of drugs by federal officials are similarly illegitimate and not binding on states that choose to regulate them otherwise or even fully legalize them.

DaveGaffney
DaveGaffney

Great points, Erick, especially about archaic laws. We have vast Federal overreach. Marijuana legalization should be a state issue, along with taxation and a myriad of other things...

MarkBerwind
MarkBerwind

I have to agree with etbass and Erick on this. The federal government shouldn't be in the business of good intentions, like they have been for decades. Pot is an issue that should be taken up by the states, only, and the issue should not be taken up by the states for purely revenue reasons, either, over anything, other than business taxes. No government should be in the business of passing legality of anything for revenue, but should be viewed as how something affects individual safety, which means everyone's safety. The job site and driving is where pot infringes most on safety. What someone does in the privacy in their own home is none of the government's business. Let the states deal with it! Repeal laws like this at the federal level.

JonH
JonH

@rjfxvii im not advocating for either. I think personal use and possession should be fully decriminalized, but sale and distribution should remain federally illegal. The same way I believe abortion should be illegal to provide, but that we shouldn’t be prosecuting women if they find someone to provide it. Focusing on the seller will save taxpayers billions in trial and prison costs, while keeping people out of jail for what amounts to a victimless crime- without increasing the supply available.

rjfxvii
rjfxvii

@JonH so are you, in states where pot is legal, advocating state-run marijuana stores alongside state-run liquor stores? Or one-stop sin bins, with alcohol and wacky tobacky sold side-by-side?