Column: Marijuana Act should get support from both sides of the aisle
Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 20:02
Last week, Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado introduced H.R. 499, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2013. If passed, this bill would legalize marijuana at a state level while enabling states and municipalities to decide its legal status. It would also create federal regulations on marijuana sales, similar to the laws in place regarding alcohol and tobacco. All Congressmen, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, should vote in favor of this bill if they truly care about their respective party platforms.
The Democrats, at least in recent years, have consistently stood up for the rights of minorities and the poor. Sadly, marijuana prohibition is more detrimental to these people than it is to other groups. According to a 2011 study by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, African-Americans in California are four times more likely than people of other ethnicities to be arrested for marijuana possession. They are three times more likely to go to prison for marijuana possession than other groups, and if only felonies are included, that figure rises to twelve times as likely.
Other studies have shown that even after adjusting for differences in use of marijuana, poor people are more likely to get arrested, convicted and incarcerated for marijuana use than middle-class and wealthy individuals. This is due to the common police practice of targeting poor neighborhoods when making marijuana arrests. On average, about 20 people per 100,000 are charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession on Manhattan’s Upper East Side every year. The Upper East Side is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in New York City. In Brownsville, a very poor neighborhood in Brooklyn, over 3,000 people per 100,000 are charged with the same crime annually.
Even after account for differences in use between socioeconomic groups, this difference is astounding. Even former law enforcement officers have acknowledged that this discrepancy is due to the police targeting poor areas.
The Democrats, the party that cares about the poor and minorities, should stand up for their rights once again. All Democrats in Congress should vote yes on H.R. 499.
Republicans in Congress also have reason to support this bill. Right now, one of the top priorities of the GOP is cutting spending. Legalizing marijuana would cut $7.7 billion per year from the federal budget. Taxing it like alcohol and tobacco, as the bill provides, would generate an additional $6 billion in revenue, cutting almost $14 billion from the deficit. With the nation fast approaching the debt ceiling (again), repealing federal marijuana prohibition would provide much needed relief.
Additionally, the Republican Party is focused on upholding Constitutional principles. One part of the Constitution, the 10th Amendment, provides that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States.” Although other parts of the Constitution grant Congress the authority to regulate “interstate commerce,” nowhere is the federal government granted to regulate commerce within a single state.
Therefore, under the Tenth Amendment, part of the document that Republicans value, most of federal marijuana prohibition is unconstitutional. If marijuana is grown within a single state and is sold, possessed, and used within the borders of the same state, it is not interstate commerce. As a result, the federal government cannot constitutionally intervene. Of course, states could still decide to keep marijuana illegal – that is their right under the Tenth Amendment. However, if Colorado and Washington succeed with their endeavors of legalizing and regulating it, other states will soon follow suit.
Some people, especially Republicans, may feel that Colorado and Washington made the wrong decision. That may prove to be the case, although I do not think it will. However, even if this does prove to be the case, it was their wrong decision to make, not Congress’s. If I am wrong and legalizing marijuana proves to be a disaster, they will criminalize it again and Republicans can say that they were correct all along.
Regardless of what happens at a state level, only if Republicans vote to repeal federal marijuana prohibition can they truthfully claim they fought for constitutional principles. As the Party that stands up for the Constitution, this should encourage them to vote in favor of H.R. 499.
While Democrats and Republicans don’t agree on many things, voting to end federal marijuana prohibition is something they can agree on. Even though they will do so for different reasons, both Parties should support the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act.