Late last week, Governor Christie had some extremely rare criticism of the Obama Administration, particularly Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder, regarding marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington, had announced that he would not challenge the new marijuana laws and said he would “let the two states” go ahead, saying he had “bigger fish to fry.” No doubt, Mr. Holder has more important areas in which to violate the Constitution, such as federal investigations of acquitted persons and pressuring states to change their laws in other areas.
Governor Christie’s remarks showed no small amount of exaggeration in saying Holder’s move amounted to a “de facto legalization” of marijuana in those states by the executive branch. Holder’s office has said it will (at least attempt to) prosecute those who target minors, funnel revenue from sales of marijuana to criminal enterprises, divert marijuana from states where it is legal to states where it is not, and a host of other conditions.
Governor Christie also showed a lack of understanding of the Constitution regarding marijuana laws, saying it is the federal government’s job to decide drug policies. Whatever one’s position on the legalization of marijuana, one need only look back to a time when another substance was prohibited by federal law in order to discern constitutional policy. That substance is one far more heavily used and accepted than marijuana today, alcohol. At the time alcohol was banned, our government was at least somewhat more constitutionally honest than today, and amended the Constitution to ban it. However, even with the 18th Amendment granting it the constitutional authority to do so, the prohibition era was a massive failure, and the 21st Amendment finally overturned the 18th.
Today, alcohol is largely the dominion of the states and local communities, with dry towns in many states throughout the country. Even in our own state, there are no fewer than thirty-five such towns. Marijuana ought to be the same way, and such a statement is likely to offend both the pro and anti crowds, but it is the most consistent with the US Constitution.
The federal government has no authority to prevent a state from legalizing or banning it. In this debate, both Governor Christie and Attorney General Holder are wrong on the topic. They both appear to subscribe to the mistaken notion of the past century that the rights of the states and the people are what the federal government allows them to be. This disturbing authoritarianism has had its claws deeply embedded in both the Republican and Democratic establishment for over a century now. We at the Tenth Amendment Center are helping to fight that statist mentality, working to dislodge one claw at a time.