The new Congress should be interesting, with the left wing of the Democratic Party controlling the House of Representatives and Republicans controlling the Senate and the White House.
One issue that seems to be an opportunity for Republicans moving forward is the idea of federalism in marijuana laws. Currently, there is a bipartisan push to allow states to make decisions on marijuana, yet the current Republican leadership seems to be resisting that push.
In the midterms, marijuana federalism ballot questions were on the ballot in Michigan, Utah, North Dakota, and Oklahoma. Three of the four passed, which shows a trend that the voters want to make these decisions, not the federal government.
In Michigan, an initiative was passed that legalized marijuana for adult use, and it became the first state in the Midwest to approve legal adult use marijuana. Utah, a very conservative state, approved medical marijuana, which shows that the push to allow patients in need of medical marijuana has overwhelming support. Oklahoma also approved medical marijuana. These three states show that the citizens of a state are warming to the idea.
Not all states have voted in favor of adult use marijuana, yet even the votes against allowing it show that empowering the people of the states makes sense. In North Dakota, an initiative failed that would have allowed people to possess or grow marijuana with no restrictions. This clearly was a bridge too far for the voters, and state voters — not the federal government — should be empowered to make these decisions.
The polls indicate widespread support for medical marijuana and liberalization of thought on the idea of adult use. The Pew Research Center released a poll on October 8 that found that 62 percent of Americans support full legalization. The numbers include evidence that Republicans, although still opposing adult use, are moving toward supporting the idea.
According to Pew, “majorities of Millennials (74%), Gen Xers (63%) and Baby Boomers (54%) say the use of marijuana should be legal.” A HealthDay/Harris Poll from July found that “nearly nine out of every 10 adults — 85 percent — believe that marijuana should be legalized for medical use.” This includes a large amount of support among Republicans.
The idea of federalism in medical marijuana laws has strong support, yet some Republicans in Washington have resisted this idea.
In this Congress, Republicans can lead the fight to pass something called the STATES Act that would protect states that have consented to medical and adult use of marijuana from federal prosecution. Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and other conservatives in the Senate are expected to lead the effort to convince Republicans to restore federalism to the states with regard to these laws. In the House, Reps. David Joyce (R-Ohio), Ken Buck (R-Colo.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.), and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) will be the base of support to get this legislation through the House.
This is a core issue for conservatives who believe in federalism. The Heritage Foundation, in a paper from 2009, described federalism as follows:
“The founding fathers of the American Republic are the authors of a brilliant design of the distribution of political power between the national government and the states. Under the Constitution, the federal government is responsible for the general concerns of the republic; the state governments are the custodians of the people’s trusts and are authorized to address their particular concerns.”
The federal government has limited enumerated powers. Powers not expressly given to the federal government are to be reserved to the states and the people in those states, according to the 10th Amendment to the Constitution. It is time for Republicans to get reacquainted with the idea of federalism and support the idea with regard to marijuana laws.
This is about federalism, not drug use.
Dr. Phil Kiver (ABD), Henley-Putnam School of Strategic Security.
Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece. The views and opinions expressed by the author are those of the writer and do not reflect the editorial opinion of IJR.