The federal law making marijuana use illegal is the issue, and our U.S. legislators should act promptly to change the law that creates the conflict with states.
Our elected leaders, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson once again appear to prefer fighting with the Trump administration rather than solving a problem. This time, they are reacting to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement that the federal government is rescinding two policy statements issued under the Obama administration, which basically allowed states to adopt rules for legalizing marijuana. Inslee claims Sessions’ move was “based on ideology and politics.”
Known as the Cole and Ogden memos, they announced the circumstances when federal government prosecutors were instructed essentially to “look the other way” and decline to prosecute the cultivation, possession, sale and distribution of cannabis. The federal law remained on the books, but it was to be, for all intents and purposes, ignored so long as the states imposed a rigorous regulatory scheme.
Cannabis is regulated under federal law by the Controlled Substances Act. Under that law and the accompanying schedules, cannabis is classified with heroin, cocaine and other hard drugs. The problem was created when voters in a number of states, including Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Colorado and California, legalized the personal recreational possession and use of small amounts of cannabis.
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The state and federal laws are now in conflict, and rather than trying to solve the problem, Ferguson has assigned lawyers to weigh the options and Sen. Murray assures us she wants to protect Washington voters. Her office issued a statement saying, Sessions’ announcement “is just the latest example of President Donald Trump and members of his administration breaking their promises and trying to jam through an ideological agenda that would be deeply damaging to the people of Washington state and across the country.”
With all respect, what is ideological about declaring the law on the books will be enforced? When did the rule of law become an ideological issue? Why not solve the problem without running to the courthouse to ask a federal judge to solve it? Why not govern?
There is a much simpler, peaceful and effective way to solve the problem. But first an ideological caveat: I believe the government has no business telling us what we can and cannot put into our bodies, and I favor revoking all recreational drug laws. Regulating opioid pills and their synthetic version, fentanyl, or the other manufactured drugs like methamphetamine, is a completely different matter, and those epidemics have nothing at all to do with the current debate over cannabis. No state law legalizes those drugs, and no such legalization is on the horizon.
But what I favor even more is a government that governs by consent of the people through laws that reflect that consent. To paraphrase the Mexican bandit’s famous line in the movie “The Treasure of Sierra Madre,” we don’t need no stinking lawsuits. We need, instead, to change the federal law that Attorney General Sessions declared will no longer be ignored. The federal law is the issue, and our federal legislators should act promptly to change the law that creates the conflict.
Gov. Inslee and Ferguson can’t do that, but Sen. Murray can try. If she truly wants to avoid the deep damage to Washington’s people and those across the country that she alleges will be the result of enforcing federal law, then she should propose a bill that removes cannabis from the federal law that made it illegal and, like the repeal of prohibition, leave it up to the states. The problem can be solved as simply as that.