Battle to Legalize Marijuana Shows Value of State-Based Regulations

by Scott Rasmussen | August 19, 2016 12:02 am

For people who believe in freedom and self-governance, it’s always better to have regulations established by state governments rather than the federal government. That’s because states are subject to competition while the federal government is not. If a state passes stupid laws and regulations that harm the quality of life, people have the power to walk away and move somewhere else.


The truth of this perspective is highlighted in the fight over the legalization of marijuana. The drug is legal at some level in 25 states today and 10 more may be added to the list soon. Most Americans think it should be legalized and regulated like alcohol. Half have actually smoked pot at some point along life’s journey.

But, for some reason, the federal government can’t let go of its war on pot. As recently as last week, the Drug Enforcement Administration confirmed that federal law will continue to consider the popular recreational drug illegal under all circumstances. The head of the DEA said his decision was based upon a determination by another federal agency that there is “no currently accepted medical use” for marijuana. So what? Is there any currently accepted medical use for beer? Or wine? Or Jack Daniels?

Americans have been brought up to believe that we have the right to do what we want with our own lives so long as we don’t interfere with the rights of others to do the same. We should be free to have a beer so long as we don’t drive drunk. We should also be free to smoke a joint so long as we don’t drive while high. What on earth gives some federal bureaucrat the authority to take away such freedom?

Making it all the more absurd, more than $10 billion is spent every year trying to enforce marijuana prohibition. Over 600,000 people are arrested simply for possession. And, continuing an enforcement tradition that has existed for eight decades, black Americans are far more likely to be arrested for possession than white Americans. Studies show that black Americans don’t use the drug more than white Americans, but they are four times as likely to be arrested.

The good news is that Congress banned the Justice Department from using any government funds to fight the state laws. And, a new Appeals Court ruling confirmed that federal agents can prosecute someone only if they violate state laws. So, the issue will ultimately be decided by the states. And, because states are more responsive to public opinion than the federal government, marijuana will soon be legal in most states.

It’s important to note that the states won’t all adopt the same regulations. Some will continue to ban the drug, a few will allow only medicinal use, and others will make it fully available for recreational use. Some states will let anybody grow it, others will pick only a few favored producers. The competition between the states will eventually lead to a far better solution than any bureaucrat in Washington could ever devise.

Giving states the authority to figure this out is the best approach. That’s true not just for marijuana, but for many other issues involving a trade-off between individual freedom and public safety. It’s an approach that puts the people in charge.

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