Thursday, December 6, 2012

Federalism: Saved By The Potheads?

The state of Washington recently legalized the use of marijuana.  The Telegraph reports more on the situation:

The new law only allows cannabis to be smoked inside, and doing so in public is still subject to a $100 fine.
However, the Seattle Police Department told its 1,300 officers that until further notice they shall not issue tickets, and no officers were present at the Space Needle event.

On the city's police website, spokesman Jonah Spangenthal-Lee said: "The department's going to give you a generous grace period to help you adjust to this brave, new, and maybe kinda stoned world we live in."

He added: "The police department believes that, under state law, you may responsibly get baked, order some pizzas and enjoy a Lord of the Rings marathon in the privacy of your own home, if you want to."
After my gut reaction of repulsion at the idea of legalized marijuana, I had a couple more thoughts.  First, the Seattle Police Department "maybe kinda" needs to hire a new spokesperson.  The second, is that Washington has just crossed a new and unprecedented threshold in social experimentation.       

What is even more interesting is the way state lawmakers have designed (and perhaps justified) the measure:

In Washington it is now legal for adults over the age of 21 to possess an ounce of the drug, or up to 16 ounces of cannabis-infused goods like brownies or cookies, or up to 72 ounces in liquid form.
 It will be subject to a 25 per cent tax at each stage of that process. The move is expected to bring hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue for spending in areas including schools and health care. The establishment of the regulation and tax system will take another year. (my emphasis added)
This seems to me like selling your birthright for a bowl of porridge.  It's very short sighted.  The education and healthcare damage done to the population through increased marijuana usage will exceed any fiscal "benefit" the state receives.  They will spend more than that on marijuana users who need more education and increased healthcare services as a result of their own usage.   Just give it time.  This will be a one step forward, two steps back policy. 

Yet, not all is lost.  There may be some silver lining in the cloud of smokey munchy-inducing haze.  The marijuana issue has been a key front line in the 10th Amendment/state's rights fight.  The report continues:

Washington's stance comes in the wake of an already escalating conflict between the federal government and states over the burgeoning medical cannabis industry.
Prosecutors in several areas of Washington said last month that they were dismissing scores of existing cannabis possession cases.
I read Thomas Woods' book Nullification a couple years ago when I was first elected to the Utah Legislature.  One of the fundamental acts of asserting Federalism and state's rights is the cooperation of state authorities (like prosecutors, sheriffs, and state employees) in implementing the new state's rights based policy.  That kind of buy-in appears to be working in Washington.

The question then is what will the Federal government do?  In the article, the Feds say that nothing has changed.  However, the local political support that Federal agents once enjoyed has diminished significantly.  Many times these Federal agents live in the states they are assigned to work in.  Do you think it will be easy for them to act against the wishes of their neighbors and community?  In a practical sense, compelling local Federal agents to enforce Federal statute against the wishes of the community will be very unpopular, adversarial, and ultimately ineffective.

For this reason, I wish Washington well on its adventure into Federalism.  Although I don't believe their new marijuana policy will be a blessing to their people in the long-term, they have acted according to their own consciences and created laws that best serve the will of a majority of its people.

If they are successful, they will set a strong precedent.  Utah will have an opportunity to follow its own course and establish laws that are better executed, less expensive, and in harmony with the conscience and will of Utahan's.  We can shed ourselves of the clumsy and obtuse mandates of a cumbersome and bloated Federal government that has overstepped its Constitutional bounds.

We would be wise to watch carefully.  So, while Washington state is lighting up, the Utah Legislature should be looking out.    

1 comment:

  1. What have you researched in the way of the arguments for the legalization of pot? What about medical marijuana? Why is the manufactured medications of the pharmaceutical companies more attractive especially considering the level of abuse currently within our state? "The War on Drugs" is equivalent to the war in the middle east being a tool to escalate the military industrial complex neither which have an end in site. What are the statistics on the "legal" alcohol use/abuse within our state? The method (if any) by which the population chooses to alter its sober state needs more consideration than just the form by which it is delivered. I do not believe that the population of Colorado and Washington are drug addicts or hippies but just more informed in the real cost of Federal regulations currently in place.


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