Today more Republicans than ever voted to stop federal harassment of medical marijuana providers, but they still opposed the measure by a ratio of 3.5 to 1. In my latest Forbes column, I consider the implications of the GOP's failure to defend federalism in this context. Here is how the column starts:
Early this morning, by a vote of 219 to 189, the House of Representatives approved an amendment aimed at stopping federal interference with state laws that "authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana." If it is included in the appropriations bill passed by the Senate and signed by the president, the amendment would prohibit the Justice Department, which includes the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), from spending taxpayers' money on dispensary raids or other attempts to stop medical use of marijuana in the 22 states that allow it.
Similar meaures have failed in the House six times since 2003. This year the amendment attracted record support from Republicans, 49 of whom voted yes, compared to 28 last time around. "This measure passed because it received more support from Republicans than ever before," says Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project. "It is refreshing to see conservatives in Congress sticking to their conservative principles when it comes to marijuana policy. Republicans increasingly recognize that marijuana prohibition is a failed Big Government program that infringes on states' rights."
Yet Republicans still overwhelmingly opposed the amendment, by a ratio of more than 3 to 1, while Democrats overwhelmingly supported it, by a ratio of 10 to 1. Given the GOP's frequent lip service to federalism, the party's lack of enthusiasm for letting states set their own policies in this area requires some explanation. So does the need for this amendment under a Democratic administration that has repeatedly said it is not inclined to use Justice Department resources against medical marijuana users and providers who comply with state law. It is hard to say who is being more inconsistent: a president who promised tolerance but delivered a crackdown or members of Congress who portray themselves as defenders of the 10th Amendment but forsake federalism because they are offended by a plant.