Justice Dept. right not to pursue cases against states legalizing marijuana
Published: Monday, October 7, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 7, 2013 23:10
On August 29, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice would not enforce federal marijuana laws where they contradicted legalization initiatives in the states of Colorado and Washington. Constitutionally speaking, this was the correct ruling and it will have lasting positive impacts on the entire country.
The 10th Amendment guarantees that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” This means that any power not explicitly granted to the federal government is reserved to either the states or the American people. The Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce, which would cover transport of marijuana across state lines. However, Amendment 64, which legalized recreational cannabis in Colorado, relates to marijuana that would be grown in, sold in and used in Colorado. Initiative 502 did the same in Washington state. This does not qualify as interstate commerce since it never leaves the state. Therefore, Congress has no constitutional power to regulate it.
Not all people were thrilled with Holder’s ruling. Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation, said “[Holder] has created what will become a tsunami that will most likely result in far too many young people becoming victims of chemical slavery.” Fay is half right – the ruling will have wide reaching effects, but they will most likely be positive, not negative.
Most states have been reluctant to legalize marijuana because they did not want to fight a legal battle with the federal government. As a comparison, even though it is technically a “states’ right” to set the legal drinking age, every state has set it at 21 because Congress has passed laws to withhold highway funding from any state which sets it lower. A law legalizing marijuna could prove costly and time consuming to the government and the taxpayers to defend the law in court, so most states decided not to bother. However, this ruling removes that fear. States are now free to legalize marijuana without worrying about federal action.
Without such a looming threat, more and more states will be willing to legalize marijuana. This will create the tsunami-like effect Fay described.
However, in the long run, things will probably work out for the best. States will be free to experiment to find the best law that keeps marijuana out of the hands of children and makes sure nobody drives a car under the influence of marijuana while not punishing adults for choosing to consume a certain plant in private.
Many high school students find it easier to get marijuana than alcohol. Drug dealers do not check IDs, but you need to prove you are at least 21 to buy alcohol. By legalizing marijuana only for adults, it will make it harder, not easier, for children to get their hands on it before they are physically and mentally mature enough. States might struggle at first to find the best method to do this, but by allowing states to experiment they will find a method that works best.
Additionally, states will be better able to craft DUI laws to ensure no one drives while under the influence of marijuana and at the same time avoid false positives. At the moment, there is no perfect method for this. The exact blood concentration of THC required for intoxication varies significantly from person to person, which is different from alcohol’s effects. Additionally, trace amounts of THC remain in the blood for days, well after the person has sobered up. This is also different from alcohol.
However, as part of the transition to legalization, Colorado passed a law that would allow drivers over the legal THC limit to rebut the charges at trial by arguing they were not too impaired to drive. Perhaps this will prove to be an effective measure to convict those driving under the influence and avoid convicting those who are not. Perhaps it will not. However, as more states legalize marijuana, one will find the best solution. Other states will then move to implement that solution.
The process of finding the best possible methods will move faster as more states legalize marijuana. Following the DOJ ruling, more states will be ruling to pass such laws which will lead to improvements in their implementation. This decision will certainly have major effects across the nation, and in the long run, it will have a positive impact.