A showdown is looming on the horizon in the growing crisis of the impotence of federal government. States are becoming increasingly resistant to the rule of federal law on issues that have localized effects and individual importance. It is clear that blanket national policy does not always represent the interests of the people from region to region.
Though the States may be United, the country has reached an evolutionary point where America must learn to be one and divided at the same time. Fortunately, the foundation for such a concept was laid centuries ago when the founding fathers established federalism and embraced the two-tiered system of rule defined by the U.S. Constitution.
The question facing America’s leadership is what will be the tipping point in the new struggles between the states and the nation? Will it be health care, immigration, or an unlikely suspect named Mary Jane?
This week, congress snubbed Attorney General Jeff Sessions when it renewed the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment as part of a new government-funding budget. A contentious appointee of Pres. Trump, Sessions entered office with guns blazing for the marijuana establishment. However, without money to go after states where the drug is legal for medical purposes, Sessions’ will be handcuffed before his guns are drawn.
First enacted in 2014, and renewed for every budget since, the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment provides that no money allocated by congress in the federal budget may be used by the Justice Department to “…prevent them [the states having legalized medical marijuana] from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” Over 40 states are currently protected by the amendment.
Of course, Sessions can still mobilize federal law enforcement to crack down on the recreational use of marijuana. He has compared marijuana use to heroin and has publicly stated that good people do not engage in using the drug. His personal views and vendetta against pot use appear misplaced and out-of-touch with the states and their citizens.
Federal-state comity is an eternal tug-of-war between regional and national law and often full of conflict. America fought a Civil War over a disagreement between federal and state policies over slavery and racism. It almost destroyed the country, but had distinctly worthwhile moral and ethical implications. One hundred years after the civil war, Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson and governor George Wallace clashed over Alabama’s continued resistance to civil rights ensured by the federal government.
While the marijuana issue pales in relation to racially motivated policies, there is some irony that Sessions, an Alabama politician, has been promoted to Washington, D.C. The city is the seat of federal government, but is also an autonomous entity with home rule where 64% of its residents approved legalization of recreational marijuana in a 2015 ballot initiative.
A capitol district resident can literally sit in view of AG Sessions and blow smoke in his face.
Of course, residents of states that have legalized recreational marijuana may still face federal prosecution, but the F.B.I. and other national law enforcement officials must have more serious issues to contend with today. Isn’t that what Pres. Trump has been telling Americans for the past year — that there are terrorists and “bad hombres” streaming into the country to cause havoc and chaos?
When Trump speaks of things that are archaic and obsolete, or bad for the country, perhaps he should avoid the U.S. Constitution and focus on the federal war on marijuana instead. The legalization movement is gaining momentum and at some point, all 50 states and the District of Columbia will have recreational use laws. Will the Justice Department still be pursuing enforcement when the entire country is against it?
In 2015, Colorado reaped over $1 billion in revenue from legal sales of marijuana. Across the Potomac, where Maryland is issuing legal grow permits, even former DEA agents and judges are bidding for cultivation licenses. It is clear that congress keeps renewing the Rohrabacher-Farr provisions because state representatives know that the revenue from marijuana sales is benefiting their home districts.
As states exercise more independence from over-reaching federal laws and policies, Washington must decide what battles are important. If federal leaders continue to push personal agendas and outlandish policies on the rest of the country, the best place for an impenetrable wall to be built might just be around the Capitol Beltway — to keep the likes of Jeff Session in, and the rest of the country free.