Recently, architects of the War of Drugs, former DEA Chiefs, four former Drug Czars and assorted heads of anti-drug groups sent an open letter demanding the Obama administration enforce federal marijuana laws in the two states, Colorado and Washington, that have legalized recreational marijuana.  The writers claim that federal law should trump state law and state legalization violates international drug control treaty obligations.

The demands by this group are a textbook example of unbridled government arrogance — the type of “we know what is best for you” attitude that true conservatives detest.  Let’s take a closer look at their position.

Federal law preempts state law when there is a conflict between the two.  Think about that statement. This is nanny government at its finest. The all-knowing feds will decide what’s best for the people in Colorado, or Illinois and any other state.  If the folks in those states vote otherwise, to hell with them.  They must be ignorant or misinformed.  A reading of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution would be a good homework assignment for these individuals who would so lightly throw aside the wishes of the “people” in favor of federal coercive power. For those who missed Civics class, the 10th Amendment reads “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution,nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  In other words, states have the authority to set their own policy on issues that are not clearly identified by the constitution as within the federal purview. Where the power of the federal government ends and the power of the states begins is an ongoing issue but alcohol policy, set by each state, is the most relevant precedent.

Legalizing marijuana violates an International Treaty.  A treaty initiated by the United States as part of the War on Drugs strategy calls for signatory countries to punish the production, possession and distribution of marijuana. The treaty also contains a clause noting constitutional limitations negate treaty obligations.  In short, legal experts do not see any treaty obligation by the federal government to intervene in states’ decisions.  For a fuller discussion, see Jacob Sullum’s comments in Reason Magazine. (Sullum’s Column)

The THC level in marijuana has increased to 13.7% compared to 1.5-3% in the 1970’s.  It is amazing that these former drug czars  would use this statistic in an attempt to bolster their case. It is in fact a clear admission of the failure of the War on Drugs. Nixon declared War on Drugs in 1971. The potency of marijuana since that time has tripled. We’ve spent a trillion dollars prosecuting this war and currently arrest 750,000 Americans each year for marijuana offenses.  And  we’re being told to do more of the same!  By their own standards, the current policy is failing miserably.

As for the canard that marijuana is a legitimate medicine, the overwhelming consensus of the accredited medical and scientific communities declares that it is not.  I am certainly no expert on the use of marijuana as a medicine. However, even a brief review of the research convinces me that there is no consensus either way. The evidence for medical marijuana was enough to convince Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Chief Medical Correspondent for CNN, to publicly state he now supports medical marijuana after taking a strong anti-medical marijuana position in 2000. Gupta now says “We have been terribly and systemically misled for 70 years in the United States and I apologize for my own role in that.” (See Dr. Gupta’s Comments in full)

To summarize one conservative’s position —  Ronald Reagan said it best when he stated “Where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves.” In drug policy, government action has not only failed to protect us from ourselves, it has made the situation dramatically worse. Playing on the public fear of drugs, the feds have set the stage for mass incarceration of our citizens and trampled on states rights. The hypocrisy of drug policy is such that our Drug Czars can, with a straight face, call for marijuana enforcement when the Presidents who appointed them were marijuana users.

Federal marijuana policy is economically wasteful and ineffective.  It is way past time for new direction.