States are more than capable of making their own decisions about drug laws.
By Peter Roff
Jan. 12, 2018
During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump said on more than one occasion that marijuana policy should be left up to the states which, during the Obama years, was kind of the way things were done. Operating off the terms of "the Cole memo" – a document named for the former U.S. deputy attorney general who authored it – prosecutions in states where partial or full decriminalization had taken effect were to be handled with the utmost care if they were to be pursued at all.
That was then. Now United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who seems to have a tin ear when it comes to what Trump has to say, announced last week a change in departmental policy regarding the prosecution of marijuana crimes. He's rescinded the Cole memo and, in its place, ordered the prosecution of crimes involving the possession, production and consumption of marijuana to the full extent of federal law.
Now it's important the law be followed. Federal law is what it is, but some states – notably Colorado, where the voters opted to use their franchise to make marijuana legal – see things differently, leading many to ask which law is it that should be obeyed?
Critics of the new policy point to both the 9th and 10th Amendments of the Bill of Rights as justification for Colorado and the other states that have legalized marijuana for everything from medical purposes to recreational consumption to prevail in the case of a disagreement with the federal government. The Constitution does not explicitly grant the federal government the authority to make drug policy and so, from the perspective of those who consider themselves strict constructionists, it's something that should be left to the states.
This does not make it a matter of "states' rights" versus the federal government. That's a phrase good conservatives and people who love liberty should drop from their lexicon for many reasons, including its odious history as the justification for so much that is bad. States have powers, states have authority, and states have responsibilities as individual entities and as members of the union we call "The United States," but only people have rights.