Federalism and States Rights Regarding Drugs Essay

Total Length: 1029 words ( 3 double-spaced pages)

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Drug Enforcement Administration, the Controlled Substances Act, and the War on Drugs all show that drug prohibition has been framed as a federal issue. Recent state-by-state legalization of cannabis (marijuana) has challenged and undermined the efficacy of federal drug laws and anti-drug policies. Almost half the states have now legalized marijuana for either medical or recreational use (Hill, 2015). The state-by-state legalization scheme creates legal and ethical conundrums. For example, Hill points out that federal anti-drug legislation prohibits legal marijuana businesses operating in states like Colorado to use national financial institutions for banking. Without access to the usual range of financing options, cannabis dispensaries and other related businesses are driven to a cash-only business which can "attract thieves and tax cheats," (Hill, 2015, p. 597). Other problems include the inability of Americans to legally transport cannabis over state lines, even between two states that both legalized the drug. Canada recently announced that it would be eliminating drug prohibition nationwide (Government of Canada, 2017). Almost all border states in the USA have legalized cannabis on some level, but it is illegal to transport one's personal supply of marijuana across what is the longest land border in the world. Cannabis and drug prohibition are areas that highlight the conflict between states' rights and federalism that has characterized political culture and discourse in the United States for centuries.

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Interestingly, the debate over the status of cannabis has forced Republicans -- long the stalwart champions of states' rights -- to reconsider their stance on drugs. Republicans have been consistently inconsistent in what should be state versus federal jurisdiction. For example, some religious conservatives vie for federally illegal abortions or restrictions on civil rights like the proposed Defense of Marriage Act. The War on Drugs was started by a Republican President, Nixon, and strengthened by Republican President Ronald Reagan. As Adler (2014) points out, "So many Republicans who believe it's federal overreach when federal law regulates health insurance or power plant emissions think its just fine when the federal government prohibits the possession of a plant, even where authorized under state law," (p. 1). The federal government has not fully clarified its position on the clash between states' rights and federalism regarding cannabis laws. However, the federal government has affirmed that it would defer to state law enforcement except in situations in which the drug is being transported for sale in another state (Baude, et al., 2014). In 2014, the House of Representatives voted to disallow DEA spending for raiding medical marijuana dispensaries in states where medical marijuana is legal (Adler, 2014). Republican lawmakers have gradually begun to show support for states' rights when it comes to cannabis.

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Adler, J.H. (2014). This is your federalism on drugs. The Washington Post. 28 Aug 2014. Retrieved online: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2014/08/28/this-is-your-federalism-on-drugs/?utm_term=.b0590188c991

Alexander, M. (2012). The New Jim Crow. Kindle Edition.

Baude, W. et al. (2014). Marijuana, federal power, and the states. Case Western Lectures and Events. Retrieved online: http://law.case.edu/Lectures-Events/lec_id/373

Godley, F. & Hurley, R. (2016). The war on drugs has failed: doctors should lead calls for drug policy reform. BMJ 2016; 355 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i6067 (Published 14 November 2016)

Government of Canada (2017). Legalization and regulation of cannabis. Retrieved online: https://www.canada.ca/en/services/policing/justice/legalization-regulation-marijuana.html

Hill, J.A. (2015). Banks, federalism, and marijuana. 65 Cas. W. Res. L. Rev. 597 (2015) Available at: http://scholarlycommons.law.case.edu/caselrev/vol65/iss3/7

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