- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2009


A medical marijuana dispensary in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., was raided recently by agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and local and other federal authorities. Another day, another reminder that federalism is all but dead.

Ill leave the facts behind this particular raid for courts to decide, but I’m skeptical. I am reminded of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas stellar dissent from a 6-3 decision in June 2005 in another California medical marijuana case, Gonzales v. Raich.

In that case, marijuana was grown by seriously ill people for their own use. It was never bought or sold, and it was never carried across a state line. Nevertheless, it was found to be banned by federal law under a bizarre construction of the “commerce” and “necessary and proper” clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

Further, it made no difference that the citizens of California had decided in a referendum to permit medical use of marijuana.

Concluding his 18-page dissent, Justice Thomas said, “The [Court] majority prevents States like California from devising drug policies that they have concluded provide much-needed respite to the seriously ill. The majority’s rush to embrace federal power ‘is especially unfortunate given the importance of showing respect for the sovereign States that comprise our Union. Our federalist system, properly understood, allows California and a growing number of other States to decide for themselves how to safeguard the health and welfare of their citizens.” (Citation omitted.)

Hastening the end of federalism is just one pernicious result - collateral damage - from the nation’s so-called “war on drugs.” Just like Prohibition (of alcohol) 90 years ago, criminal profits have led to widespread corruption in our own country. (How, for instance, does one think a typical imprisoned criminal can get any drug he wants just about any time he wants it? Answer: bought guards.)

Drug-using Americans money in the hands of narco-traffickers has created damage immediately south of our southern border that goes far beyond tragic; it’s terrifying.

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich put it this way: “We have to rethink our entire strategy for working with Mexico. The war that’s under way in Mexico is an enormous national security threat to the U.S. If we allow the drug dealers to win we will have a nightmare on our southern border and no amount of fence and no amount of national security would compensate for the collapse of Mexico.”

Many illicit drugs are bad. But suppression of liberty is bad, too. Prohibition was doomed from the get-go because too many Americans wouldn’t lay off booze. It has been clear for a long time that, to the extent it relies on prohibition, the drug war is a failure for the same reason. It’s a failure writ many tens of times larger than alcohol prohibition.

I once lost the chairmanship of the Republican Party of New Mexico because some in that party deemed impermissible having the open and serious debate about drug policy that the Republican governor and I advocated.

Decriminalization or legalization was simply off the table, as if Prohibition and its repeal never happened. Some minor law changes designed for the governor by a task force that included a prominent federal judge and several others from law enforcement sent the states senior U.S. senator and some other party bigwigs into a conniption.

The ensuing hypocrisy was breathtaking.

For example, the states two Republican U.S. representatives issued a statement saying, “While we agree that Mr. Dendahl has done good work for our party and has been a warrior for many of the party’s principles, he simply has broken faith with the party in this matter.”

But when U.S. Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont switched parties less than three months later and handed control of the U.S. Senate to the Democrats, one of those same two Republican congressmen unctuously opined, “He made a decision of conscience and you have to respect that. The party is big enough to reflect different views.”

Well, maybe not. But it had better learn to be.

Retired businessman John Dendahl lives in Littleton, Colo., and is president of the newly incorporated think tank the Rocky Mountain Foundation.

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