As soon as next week, the U.S. Senate will have an opportunity to vote on a bipartisan amendment being offered by Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ that would prohibit the federal government from spending taxpayer money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. We urge members of both parties – and in particular those who support the 10th Amendment — to take a stand for sensible drug policy and against wasteful government spending. A similar amendment passed the U.S. House a few weeks ago with overwhelming bipartisan support.
Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have now legalized marijuana for a variety of medicinal purposes – and an additional ten states recently passed laws or have laws before their governors allowing access to CBD oils, a non-psychotropic component of marijuana that has proven uniquely effective in managing the epileptic seizures that afflict children with Dravet’s syndrome. New York may well legalize medical marijuana today.
A recent Pew Research Center survey found that nearly three in four Americans – including 78 percent of Independents, 71 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of Republicans – believe that efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth. Similar numbers — 80 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of independents, and 61 percent of Republicans – favor making medical marijuana legally available.
At the federal level, however, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and some federal prosecutors have waged an aggressive campaign of intimidation and interference against state-level medical marijuana efforts. Federal encroachment has persisted despite guidance in recent years from Attorney General Eric Holder to shift federal law enforcement priorities away from meddling in state-level medical marijuana programs. A growing number of federal lawmakers on Capitol Hill have expressed disapproval of these federal actions.
The amendment, attached to an appropriations bill, is the best way right now to stop the federal government from undermining both state laws and the will of a substantial majority of Americans.
Stifling federal regulations have made state action on this issue necessary. Despite substantial evidence confirming marijuana’s medical benefits, the DEA has opposed efforts to reform federal policy to acknowledge marijuana’s medical value and made it very difficult for researchers to obtain marijuana to study its medicinal properties.
The federal government maintains a monopoly on the production of only one drug: marijuana. Researchers who get government funding to look for the harms of marijuana can get the marijuana they need for their studies relatively easily, while those who want to conduct clinical trials of its therapeutic value are typically frustrated by bureaucratic obstacles. In 2007, a DEA administrative law judge ruled that this decades-long monopoly was harmful to the public interest and should end – but the head of the DEA exercised her authority under federal law to capriciously reject the ruling.
State legislators and voters have rightfully taken matters into their own hands by making marijuana available for medical use at the state level. Almost half of all Americans now live in a state where medical marijuana is legal to one degree or another. But patients and their families, as well as medical marijuana providers, must still worry about the threat of federal interference in the form of militarized police raids, arrest, seizure of property, and federal prosecution for merely following the recommendations of doctors in accordance with state law.
The Paul-Booker amendment would prohibit the Department of Justice from spending another dime to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. The amendment does not require states to legalize medical marijuana or stop law enforcement from combating marijuana-related activity that is not in compliance with state laws, such as interstate trafficking. It is a states’ rights amendment that saves taxpayer money by removing the sick and dying from the battlefield of federal drug prohibition. Whatever one thinks of marijuana generally, or medical marijuana specifically, it is the will of the people in 32 states, and plain common sense, to let states make their own decisions on this matter. It ought to be an easy “yes” vote for believers in limited government and federalism.
Grover Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform. Ethan Nadelmann is the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. This op-ed is an updated version of an earlier one that appeared in these pages, in advance of a vote on the House side.