California might become the first state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, if voters there approve Proposition 19 next month. Though poll results differ, most indicate that a majority of voters favor the ballot proposition; if it passes, it will take effect on November 3.
Enter the Obama administration. In a letter to former heads of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Attorney General Eric Holder wrote that the administration “strongly opposes” the proposition, and “will vigorously enforce” federal drug laws if it passes. This comes about a year after the same administration announced that it would stop prosecuting medicinal marijuana users. Confusing?
By adopting a hypocritical stance when it comes to enforcing federal drug laws, the president has, perhaps unwittingly, provided the tea party movement with a rare opportunity to add hordes of young, left-leaning voters to its ranks.
Many on the left favor legalizing marijuana because they see dollar signs. New taxes and fees on a widely used substance could be used to compensate for overspending and offset budget deficits, or so they claim, which is naturally preferable to raising taxes on other products (like alcohol and tobacco) yet again. What they fail to recognize, however, is that legalization fits under the ideological tent of the tea party movement, for two reasons: personal liberties and states’ rights.
The first should be obvious. An individual is master of his own body, and is free to ingest the substances of his choice, so long as in doing so he does not harm anyone else. Drug laws violate this natural right by creating a “victimless crime.” Conservative tea partiers argue that the federal government does not own their bodies, and therefore cannot force them to purchase health insurance; logically, then, the feds can’t force citizens to abstain from pot.
As for states’ rights, the Tenth Amendment is straightforward: “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.” The Constitution certainly doesn’t delegate the power to regulate or restrict the use of any substance, which is why temperance activists had to push for the Eighteenth Amendment to ban alcohol nationwide in 1920. No such amendment regarding marijuana or any other “drug” has been ratified.
Clearly, Californians have a constitutional right to legalize marijuana, and it is not the place of the Obama administration (or anyone else) to discourage or interfere with the laws of the State of California.
Republicans, for all of their talk about individual liberty and states’ rights, are notorious for their knee-jerk hypocrisy when it comes to federal drug laws, but as government-propagated marijuana myths of decades past are debunked, and older social conservatives are replaced by a new generation of fiscally conservative libertarians, that could change. The GOP doesn’t seem to recognize it yet, but it is in desperate need of a re-branding. The “Party of Traditional Values” will win over few, if any, young voters; the Republican Party must become the “Party of Freedom” if it is to survive.
If Proposition 19 passes, a battle will ensue, exposing a new generation to the idea of states’ rights. When the Obama administration goes after California’s marijuana law, much like it has attacked Arizona’s immigration law, who will speak up for Californians? Will it be the Democratic Party, which thus far has been unwilling to criticize even the most damaging actions of the president? Or will some other group – the tea party movement, if not the GOP – seize this opportunity?