Critics from both left and right are all over Jeff Sessions for his decision to revoke an Obama-era executive order on marijuana. It ordered the Department of Justice to turn a blind eye to pot production, transportation, and sales in states that have legalized recreational use of weed.
There are several important issues involved here. One is that Obama’s directive was wholly illegal and unconstitutional. Federal law, enacted by Congress, is clear that marijuana is an illegal drug. No president has either the moral or legal authority to decide which laws he thinks are worth enforcing. His job is to implement laws enacted by Congress, not to ignore them when he doesn’t like them.
Obama was guilty of a contemptuous disregard for the rule of law, and Sessions, to his credit, has re-established it. That’s the job of the attorney general.
The argument against the current law rests in large measure on the conviction that drug laws ought to be primarily the province of the states rather than the federal government. From a constitutional standpoint, I am in agreement with this point of view. You can read the Constitution from front to back, upside down, and in Sanskrit, and you won’t find any authorization in there for the federal government to establish drug policy for the entire country.
The view of the Founders was that the province of the federal government would largely deal with international affairs, while internal affairs would largely be the province of the states. As James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, put it in Federalist 45 (emphasis mine):
“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation and foreign commerce. ... The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives and liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement and prosperity of the State.”
While it is gratifying to see our friends on the left suddenly grasp the importance of the 10th Amendment and states’ rights, it’s sadly predictable that it wasn’t over something like allowing states to establish marriage policy for themselves. No, no, on that score, leftwingers are perfectly content to pretend the 10th Amendment does not even exist so they can celebrate the tyranny of the judiciary over the states.
But the solution to the left’s displeasure with the government’s drug laws is not to ignore them and circumvent them. That is undemocratic, unconstitutional, un-American, and unworthy of a constitutional Republic. The solution is for them to work through the legal process to change the laws, to work through Congress to transfer control of drug policy from the nation’s capital to state capitals, and allow the laboratory of democracy to do its work.
The scientific evidence is by now abundantly clear: pot is not a harmless product. It can permanently lower IQ, reduce initiative, cause long-term memory impairment, and lead to deaths on the highways (every state which has legalized recreational pot use has seen a spike in DUI deaths). The earlier in life someone starts a pot habit the worse the long-term consequences are.
Modern versions of pot are up to six times more potent than the weed my classmates smoked back in the day, so it can even produce psychotic, homicidal episodes. Thus it would be stupid for a state to legalize a product that is virtually guaranteed to harm and even kill some of its own citizens, and on the other hand, it would be smart for a state to imitate federal guidelines on the matter. But under our form of government, states can be stupid if they want to. Voters can fix their stupidity by electing better lawmakers.
Bottom line: if American citizens don’t like what Attorney General Sessions has done, they have one legitimate avenue of response: work through Congress to change the law. In the meantime, AG Sessions is upholding and reaffirming the rule of law, and for that, he is to commended, not condemned.