Responses to the recent decision to not enforce certain federal laws pertaining to marijuana use have been all over the place. Some think that this is beginning of a new approach to addressing drugs here in the US based on the the political realities of popular support. Some see it as embracing federalism and states’ rights. Others see it as simply the right thing to do to help all the cancer patients.
While I applaud the, at least, token federalism shown by this move, I believe that what we are seeing is government by convenience rather than government by law. If a number of states have passed laws legalizing use of certain drugs for those who are medically needy, then it is right for the federal government to say “hey, that’s up to you, we’re out of here.” However, the federal government may only do so by repealing/modifying the existing federal laws (or having the courts find those laws in violation of the 10th Amendment, etc). For it to simply say “not gonna worry about that law” is to thumb its collective nose at the rule of law altogether.
As much as you and I and everyone else may complain about the interworkings of the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches, they do provide us with a structure and basis in law: a series of processes which ought to be followed so as to show all that none are above or around or beyond the laws which have been established.
We’ve already had other administrations (such as the previous one) openly saying that it would not enforce certain provisions of immigration law. The present administration has calmed the fears of its backers over language in certain bills by saying that it can get rid of the discomfort through signing statements.
Bottom line? This approach to medical marijuana legalization appears remarkably extra-legal. And, to the extent that it creates precedent, it sets a very poor one. What other laws are already being ignored because they are inconvenient or do not meet with the current administration’s understanding of life and the universe? What laws in the future (under whatever administration) will meet the same fate?
If we have a law, we should either abide by it or get rid of it. For some things, there is no middle way.