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Ray Haynes

Do Republicans Actually Believe in Federalism?

I usually don’t write articles on marijuana or its legalization. I don’t have a dog in the fight over the legalization of marijuana. Quite frankly, I don’t care. I think we have wasted a lot of time and money making it illegal, enforcing the law against it, trying to make it legal again, arguing over whether it should be legal or illegal, running initiatives to legalize its medical use, initiatives to legalize its general use, and way too much money on using it. The fight over marijuana is foolish, a waste of time, a testament to a country that has too much money and time, and not enough to do. However, there is a bill coming up in Congress in the next week or so that affects that fight, and Republicans have an opportunity to actually advance the causes of freedom and federalism

I believe in freedom and federalism. I believe that increasing and protecting freedom is an important thing. I also wish that those who have fought so hard to legalize marijuana devoted as much time and effort increasing and protecting freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, private property rights and freedom of contract as they have to making marijuana legal. This country would be a lot better off if they did.

I also believe in federalism. The simple definition of federalism, as it manifests itself in our Constitution and governance, is, if the Constitution doesn’t grant the power to do something to the federal government, then that power belongs to the states. Try as I may, I see no power to enforce ANY drug laws in the Constitution. The federal government has shoehorned the power in the “power to regulate interstate commerce,” but the fact is, that is a weak justification.

So the federal government spends millions of dollars going after marijuana growers, sellers, and users in states where the citizens of those states have legalized it. It is a waste of money, it is foolish, but more important than all of that, it is an exercise of a power not granted to the federal government by the Constitution.

I believe in a federalist system, one where the federal government recognizes the limits of its power, and respects those limits. Attempting to enforce a questionable federal law in states where the state’s law is in conflict, in a policy area that is clearly within the state’s purview, violates the value of a limited federal government and respect for federalism.

That doesn’t mean I want to see marijuana legalized. Respect federalism, let the states decide, violating the limits of federal power has too great a negative consequence on the balance between the states and federal government to be ignored.

Which is why Republicans in Congress should give the Rohrabacher/Blumenauer amendment to the CSJ Appropriations bill a hearing. Simply stated, that amendment would prevent the Federal Government from spending tax dollars on marijuana enforcement in states that have legalized marijuana. Aside from the tax savings, no small thing, the federalism implications are significant. The Rules Committee will determine whether the amendment gets a floor vote. Congressman Pete Sessions is the Chair of that Committee, and a vote on that amendment comes up right after Labor Day. In addition, there are two California Republicans, Congressmen Kevin McCarthy and Darrell Issa, who sit on that committee, and can influence whether Chairman Sessions allows the amendment to come up for a vote. If I had any influence over them, I would simply ask them to talk with Chairman Sessions to put the amendment up for a vote.

This is a test, do Republicans believe in federalism or not? We say we do, but sometimes, like the Democrats, our federalism is a selective federalism. If we like what the states are doing, we stay out of the policy area, and let the states decide. If we don’t like what they are doing, we want the federal government to stop them. In this case, the federal government has the opportunity to usher in a new era of federalism, and save money. That is a win/win in my book.

I would urge my friends in Congress, particularly my Republican friends like McCarthy and Issa to look hard at this, and urge an up or down vote on the floor. You don’t have to support legalization of marijuana to support the vote. You merely have to believe that states have certain powers upon which the federal government should not intrude. It’s that simple. Either we believe our rhetoric, or we do not. If we don’t, then let’s tell the voters we don’t, and quit pretending we do. If we do, grant an up or down vote on Rohrabacher/Blumenthauer. We will show we are serious about the promises we make to people when we seek election.