Marijuana and the Feds

Newsweek wonders what the federal government can do about about California’s Proposition 19. The proper answer, if you care what the U.S. Constitution has to say, is nothing. Prop. 19 is a referendum being presented to the people of California in November that would, essentially, legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the state. California is one of a few states that already allow the medicinal use of cannabis, despite its being prohibited under federal law, and several other states are currently considering loosening their pot laws as well.

I don’t know how many times I have to say it, but the U.S. Constitution enumerates certain powers that fall in the federal purview and explicitly states that everything else is state or individual business (see the Tenth Amendment). The federal government has the authority to regulate or prohibit interstate or international trade in marijuana, since interstate and international commerce matters rightly fall under their authority, but it has no authority whatsoever to outlaw the drug’s use (or, for that matter, the use of any other drug). I don’t see ‘regulate the recreational use of drugs’ on the list of enumerated powers.

The states have the sole authority to regulate the use of drugs, and the states have the sole authority to regulate the production of drugs within their borders. Federal authority only comes in when the drugs are crossing state or international lines. If the people of California wish to legalize cannabis for recreational purposes, that is completely their choice to make. Drugs produced, distributed, and consumed within the state’s borders never fall under federal jurisdiction. The federal government has no right whatsoever to raid marijuana production facilities in states where their existence is legal, as long as those facilities are not intentionally shipping their product outside of the state in violation of [legitimate] federal law. Period.

I’m indifferent on the California proposition itself. I am not convinced that cannabis is any more or less dangerous than alcohol, and I see no sufficient justification for its prohibition. Harder drugs (cocaine, heroin, LSD, meth, etc.) are a different issue. In either case, federal drug laws are largely unconstitutional and these matters are properly left to the states.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.