Political action at the state and local level is key to taking on overreaching federal power and advancing liberty, but government action alone isn’t enough. It has to be supported by human action.

James Madison gave us a blueprint to slow down or stop federal actions in Federalist #46 when he called for “a refusal to cooperate with officers of the union.” The reason this strategy works is the federal government depends on state and local cooperation to enforce virtually all of its laws and to implement all of its programs. It’s a team effort, and it doesn’t work when half the team quits.

But we can’t count on government action alone. Politicians are fickle and undependable. And as we saw in past efforts against the Stamp Act, the Fugitive Slave Act, and alcohol prohibition, depending on government action alone to nullify government actions in practice isn’t enough.

In short, it takes individual human action.

In fact, human action is the most powerful nullification force. Drivers nullify speed limits on highways every day simply because they aren’t willing to drive as slow as the government mandates. It requires no government action at all to nullify the federally required speed limit in practice and effect. Sure, the law remains on the books, and police can hassle a driver here and there. But fundamentally, the government can’t enforce the law. The flow of traffic is always faster than the speed limit.

We can see the power of Individual action in the ongoing nullification of federal marijuana prohibition. Individuals acting first ultimately drove political change.

People in California were already using, buying, growing and selling cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes long before voters approved Prop 215 in 1996. After the people voted to legalize medical cannabis and sweep away some state enforcement, ongoing human action by determined individuals allowed the medical marijuana market to take root despite aggressive federal efforts to stop it.

We’re seeing the early stages of a similar movement to nullify the prohibition of magic mushrooms and other psychedelic compounds in California.

Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains the complete prohibition of psilocybin – the hallucinogenic compound in mushrooms – along with other psychedelic compounds. The state of California also prohibits the possession of these drugs.

During the 2023 legislative session, the California assembly passed a bill that would have legalized several naturally occurring psychedelic drugs, including “magic mushrooms.” Gov. Gavin Newsome vetoed it.

But while political efforts suffered a setback and psychedelics remain illegal in California, it hasn’t stopped people from using them. In fact, despite both federal and state prohibitions, mushrooms are becoming more mainstream.

A Californian recently posted the following on social media.

You know California drug culture has been mainstreamed when the mushroom chocolate makers/sellers you know text you about “Black Friday” & “Cyber Monday” deals on their (still technically illegal) products.

She went on to elaborate.

“Magic mushrooms are still illegal here, though they are legal [decriminalized] in a couple of municipalities like Oakland. But the people basically just decided they didn’t give a s— about magic mushrooms restrictions, and so magic mushroom products are sold in various stores, a lot of them have euphemisms, some literally say that they have psychedelic mushrooms in them but they don’t literally say psilocybin so they don’t get in trouble. But ultimately nobody really cares, like I’ve often served microdose mushroom tea at my house during parties, just culturally it’s been entirely accepted as normal.”

Despite the failure of political action (for now), Californians are nullifying psilocybin prohibition by simply ignoring the laws – both state and federal. They are following Madison’s “refusal to cooperate” blueprint. And it’s only a matter of time before the politicians get on board and change the law.

As we’ve seen with marijuana, as more and more people engage in an activity, the market grows – no matter what government people say. And as the market grows, it becomes more and more difficult for any government to put a dent in it. 

This demonstrates an important truth – when given even just a little room to flourish, markets are more powerful than government 

Political action is important, but this kind of individual action is the lynchpin of the nullification movement.

Mike Maharrey

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