FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Nullify the Drug War!

by SHELDON RICHMAN

Thomas Jefferson said a revolution every 20 years would be a good thing. Regardless of what one thinks of that, perhaps a little constitutional crisis every now and then would have its benefits.

One such crisis may be brewing now. On election day, solid majorities of voters in Colorado and Washington voted to make marijuana a legal product, not just for people who are certified as ill, but for everyone. Several states already allow marijuana use for medical purposes. These two states, however, are blazing trails by recognizing the freedom of all adults to smoke or otherwise consume the plant.

The problem, of course, is that the federal government forbids the manufacture, sale, and use of marijuana (and many other substances) for any purpose. So what happens now? We already have some idea: 20 states and the District of Columbia currently permit (or refuse to penalize) medical marijuana in defiance of federal law. Despite early assurances to the contrary, the Obama administration has cracked down on legal state-licensed marijuana dispensaries in California to a far greater degree than the Bush administration ever did.

During the Bush years, Californians challenged federal anti-marijuana policy against the state, but the Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Raich (2005) sided with the central government, ruling that the Constitution’s Commerce Clause empowers the feds to prohibit marijuana manufacturing and consumption even when a state law permits it for medical purposes.

Is the Obama administration going to stand by and permit the recreational use of pot in Washington and Colorado when it tries to stop its medical use in California? It hardly seems likely. But does it want to ignite open resistance by cracking down? The feds are in a bind.

So it looks like a conflict is in the offing — maybe even a constitutional crisis. What about the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause? It says, “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof … shall be the supreme Law of the Land.”

That would seem to seal the deal for the feds. But maybe not. What if a law is not “made in pursuance” of the Constitution, at least in the judgment of people in the states? Do they have the authority to nullify it?

Thomas E. Woods Jr. says yes in his book Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century. As Woods notes, nullification proceeds from the premise that an unconstitutional law is not properly regarded as law, and therefore the states may ignore it. “Nullification provides a shield between the people of a state and an unconstitutional law from the federal government,” Woods writes. Without nullification, the feds would define their own powers, which should be intolerable to people who love liberty.

Nullification has a high pedigree. “It was Thomas Jefferson, in his draft of the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, who introduced the term ‘nullification’ into American political discourse,” Woods writes. “And … Jefferson was merely building upon an existing line of political thought dating back to Virginia’s ratifying convention and even into the colonial period. Consequently, an idea that may strike us as radical today was well within the mainstream of Virginian political thought when Jefferson introduced it.”

Nullifying the central government’s destructive war on drugs would be appropriate, because in the past Americans used this principle (or something similar) against other laws that violated personal liberty, such as the Alien and Sedition Acts, which suppressed criticism of government officials, and the Fugitive Slave Acts, which required the return of runaway slaves.

Nullification should not be conflated with states’ rights. This issue is about the real rights of individuals, not the alleged rights of state governments. History demonstrates that decentralized power tends to pose less of a threat to freedom, if for no other reason than that the smaller the jurisdiction, the cheaper it is to vote with one’s feet. What possible objection can there be to letting the people of the states decide when to ignore federal laws that violate their liberty?

And what better place to start than with the feds’ abominable war on people who make, sell, and use disapproved substances?

Washington and Colorado may be the new birthplaces of freedom.

Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation (www.fff.org) in Fairfax, Va.

Sheldon Richman, author of the forthcoming America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
August 25, 2016
Mike Whitney
The Broken Chessboard: Brzezinski Gives Up on Empire
Paul Cox – Stan Cox
The Louisiana Catastrophe Proves the Need for Universal, Single-Payer Disaster Insurance
John W. Whitehead
Another Brick in the Wall: Children of the American Police State
Lewis Evans
Genocide in Plain Sight: Shooting Bushmen From Helicopters in Botswana
Daniel Kovalik
Colombia: Peace in the Shadow of the Death Squads
Sam Husseini
How the Washington Post Sells the Politics of Fear
Ramzy Baroud
Punishing the Messenger: Israel’s War on NGOs Takes a Worrying Turn
Norman Pollack
Troglodyte Vs. Goebbelean Fascism: The 2016 Presidential Race
Simon Wood
Where are the Child Victims of the West?
Roseangela Hartford
The Hidden Homeless Population
Mark Weisbrot
Obama’s Campaign for TPP Could Drag Down the Democrats
Rick Sterling
Clintonites Prepare for War on Syria
Yves Engler
The Anti-Semitism Smear Against Canadian Greens
August 24, 2016
John Pilger
Provoking Nuclear War by Media
Jonathan Cook
The Birth of Agro-Resistance in Palestine
Eric Draitser
Ajamu Baraka, “Uncle Tom,” and the Pathology of White Liberal Racism
Jack Rasmus
Greek Debt and the New Financial Imperialism
Robert Fisk
The Sultan’s Hit List Grows, as Turkey Prepares to Enter Syria
Abubakar N. Kasim
What Did the Olympics Really Do for Humanity?
Renee Parsons
Obamacare Supporters Oppose ColoradoCare
Alycee Lane
The Trump Campaign: a White Revolt Against ‘Neoliberal Multiculturalism’
Edward Hunt
Maintaining U.S. Dominance in the Pacific
George Wuerthner
The Big Fish Kill on the Yellowstone
Jesse Jackson
Democrats Shouldn’t Get a Blank Check From Black Voters
Kent Paterson
Saving Southern New Mexico from the Next Big Flood
Arnold August
RIP Jean-Guy Allard: A Model for Progressive Journalists Working in the Capitalist System
August 23, 2016
Diana Johnstone
Hillary and the Glass Ceilings Illusion
Bill Quigley
Race and Class Gap Widening: Katrina Pain Index 2016 by the Numbers
Ted Rall
Trump vs. Clinton: It’s All About the Debates
Eoin Higgins
Will Progressive Democrats Ever Support a Third Party Candidate?
Kenneth J. Saltman
Wall Street’s Latest Public Sector Rip-Off: Five Myths About Pay for Success
Binoy Kampmark
Labouring Hours: Sweden’s Six-Hour Working Day
John Feffer
The Globalization of Trump
Gwendolyn Mink – Felicia Kornbluh
Time to End “Welfare as We Know It”
Medea Benjamin
Congress Must Take Action to Block Weapon Sales to Saudi Arabia
Halyna Mokrushyna
Political Writer, Daughter of Ukrainian Dissident, Detained and Charged in Ukraine
Manuel E. Yepe
Tourism and Religion Go Hand-in-Hand in the Caribbean
ED ADELMAN
Belted by Trump
Thomas Knapp
War: The Islamic State and Western Politicians Against the Rest of Us
Nauman Sadiq
Shifting Alliances: Turkey, Russia and the Kurds
Rivera Sun
Active Peace: Restoring Relationships While Making Change
August 22, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton: The Anti-Woman ‘Feminist’
Robert Hunziker
Arctic Death Rattle
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail