Marijuana Federalism's Time Has Come
Congress should make sure the next attorney general respects states' authority to set their own marijuana policy.
In my 1996 campaign to return to Congress in Texas, both the Republican and Democratic parties opposed me. Republicans fought me in the primary and Democrats in the general election. Millions of dollars were spent attacking my opposition to the war on drugs in the most inflammatory ways imaginable. Many of the attacks even portrayed me as pro-drug use. This smear campaign was unsuccessful as most voters understood that opposing an unconstitutional, ineffective "war on drugs" meant that you were pro-freedom, not pro-drugs.
Despite my showing that opposition to the drug war was not the political kiss of death, even in a conservative "Bible Belt"' district, during the majority of my time in Congress, few politicians joined my call to end the federal war on drugs. That began to change in the later years of my time in Congress and has accelerated since I left Congress in 2013.
Today, 33 states have legalized medical marijuana while ten have legalized recreational marijuana. The majority of Americans now live in states where some type of marijuana is legal. Further proof of changing attitudes is that in 2016, Donald Trump's stated support for respecting state's authority over marijuana policy not only did not damage his campaign, it did not even cost him support from the religious right.
In this year's elections, medical marijuana was legalized in the conservative states of Utah and Oklahoma while recreational marijuana was legalized in Michigan. Texas Representative Pete Sessions' use of his powerful position as chair of the House Rules Committee to block legislation prohibiting federal government from jailing sick people for the "crime" of using medical marijuana in accordance with their state laws may have played a role in his defeat. Voters, especially young voters, are increasingly turned off by conservatives who favor individual liberty and federalism when it comes to guns and Obamacare but favor a federal police state when it comes to marijuana.
Ironically, the other drug warrior to lose his government job this month is also named Sessions. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was very devoted to the war on marijuana. He revoked Obama-era policy prohibiting federal prosecution of individuals using marijuana in compliance with laws in their states.
Sessions resignation gave President Trump the ability to appoint an attorney general who agrees with his support for marijuana federalism. Unfortunately, Trump's pick to replace Sessions, William Barr, was a staunch supporter of the war on drugs when he previously served as attorney general from 1991-1993. Congress should make sure Mr. Barr will respect states' authority to set their own marijuana policies before confirming him.
Congress should protect states right to nullify federal anti-marijuana laws by passing the STATES Act. Introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the bill is supported by conservative Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R) and libertarians like my son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R). The STATES Act enjoys true bipartisan support and advances the cause of limited, constitutional government.
The federal war on marijuana failed to reduce marijuana use. It did succeed in expanding the federal police state and shredding large parts of the Bill of Rights. Fortunately, the majority of Americans ejected the inane policy of locking people up for using a non-government approved drug. President Trump and Congress can side with this pro-Constitution majority by making sure the next Attorney General is a consistent supporter of the 10th Amendment and by passing the STATES Act.
Ron Paul, a former congressman for Texas, is host of the Ron Paul Liberty Report and Chairman of Campaign for Liberty.