Federalism is a brilliant system of government that, when adhered to, affords every citizen maximal freedom. The founding fathers, in their considerable wisdom, knew that matters of national concern are best left to the federal government, while matters of domestic, local concern are best left to individual states, communities, and people.
This knowledge was enshrined within our founding documents. One example resides in the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, which gives the federal government the authority to regulate interstate commerce, but renders it powerless in regards to commerce within a single state.
The Tenth Amendment solidifies this notion, stating, “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.” federalism’s key idea is that any power not explicitly granted to the federal government by the Constitution is held by the people.
Self-governance at the lowest possible level remains the key to federalism, and liberty itself. Bloated federal bureaucracies can never possibly govern the affairs of individual communities, or represent their interests, as well as individual members of the community themselves.
Commitment to federalism transcends political differences, and exists publicly on both sides of the aisle. Nevertheless, federalist principles have been routinely savaged over recent years—a prime example being Obamacare’s individual mandate, which continues to financially penalize citizens for not retaining health insurance.
Much to the chagrin of an overzealous federal government, federalism requires allowing citizens to choose for themselves. Hence, controversy surrounding conflicting state and federal laws regarding the sale and usage of medical marijuana is shaping up to be one of federalism’s biggest tests in recent memory.
Currently, 29 states, the District of Columbia, and United States territories Guam and Puerto Rico allow medical marijuana usage with varying laws, fees, and possession limits on the books. Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), a federal law that renders marijuana an illegal substance, the government does not differentiate between recreational and medical marijuana use.
The United States federal government maintains that the marijuana has no acceptable medical value, and the CSA directly conflicts with state laws that allow medicinal marijuana usage. However, since its inception in 2014, the Rohrabacher Amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations bill has prevented federal prosecutors from pursuing cases against state-legal medical marijuana patients, growers, and dispensaries.
In regards to medical marijuana, the Rohrabacher Amendment provides robust protection of federalist principles, and allows states to chart their own course. Nevertheless, the law isn’t permanent, and has been introduced and voted upon yearly.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed his support for a federalist approach to medical marijuana. “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state,” Trump once toldThe Washington Post, even telling Bill O’Reilly he is, “in favor of medical marijuana 100%.”
Despite this public support of federalism, Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has routinely proclaimed his desire to prosecute medical marijuana usage. In May, Sessions sent a letter to Congress, declaring the Department of Justice’s opposition to, “the inclusion of language in any appropriations legislation that would prohibit the use of Department of Justice funds or in any way inhibit its authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).”
Attorney General Sessions’ opposition notwithstanding, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to the 2018 CJS appropriations bill by a voice vote, consistent with the language of the Rohrabacher Amendment. This represents an enormous victory, and provides hope for the future of federalism.
Although Senate Republicans have shown their commitment to federalist principles in the short term, the fight isn’t over until those principles are affirmed on the President’s desk.