Jacob Sullum, who describes himself as a journalist covering “the war on drugs from a conscientious objector’s perspective” for Forbes Magazine, has come up with a genuinely useful metric for vetting candidates: “marijuana federalist.”
“Marijuana federalists” are candidates who believe the final say on marijuana legalization should be left to the states, regardless of their personal feelings on legalization.
Sullum calls candidates on the other end of the spectrum — candidates who want to enforce existing federal law criminalizing pot in states like Colorado that have legalized at the state level — “marijuana prohibitionists.”
So how do the candidates currently running for president stack up on the marijuana federalist to prohibitionist scale?
The strongest marijuana federalist in either party is Bernie Sanders. Sanders has not only called for an end to the federal ban on marijuana — talk is cheap — but last year introduced a bill in the Senate to de-list marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act, where it is currently (dishonestly) listed as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance, along with heroin.
Sanders’ bill would effectively put pot in the same legal category as alcohol in federal law. On the issue of pot, the socialist Sanders is the strongest advocate of states’ rights among the candidates of either party. It’s that kind of year.
Hillary Clinton has said she would keep President Obama’s policy of not enforcing federal law that contradicts state law in states that have legalized and she supports reclassifying pot from a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance to a Schedule 2 Controlled Substance. Whoopee. Schedule 2 Controlled Substances includes cocaine and methamphetamines. When it comes to marijuana federalism, Clinton barely moves the needle beyond where it is today.
Four of the surviving Republican candidates, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush, have come out as marijuana federalists. A fifth, John Kasich, says he “probably” is one. All say they are against legalization, but that decisions by the states to legalize should be respected.
Among the five, the most ideologically rigorous marijuana federalist is Ted Cruz. He has said he thinks that leaving marijuana policy to the states “is a great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called ‘the laboratories of democracy.’ If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative. I personally don’t agree with it, but that’s their right.”
As for Trump, last October, while campaigning in Nevada, which will vote on legalization next November, he said, “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state by state.”
The three remaining candidates, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie, are marijuana prohibitionists. Carson is relatively moderate. He says he would enforce the federal prohibition in states that have legalized but would make an exception for medical use.
Rubio says he’s a pot prohibitionist, but he’s also ducking, weaving and talking out of both sides of his mouth on the issue. Last April he told Hugh Hewitt that he was against marijuana legalization, but that “states have a right to do what they want,” then adding that “they don’t have a right to write federal policy,” and “we need to enforce our federal laws.” Go figure. Last week, casino magnate and Republican heavy hitter Sheldon Adelson, who has donated millions to anti-marijuana legalization groups, endorsed Rubio.
Christie is the Darth Vader of marijuana prohibitionists. During a town hall meeting in New Hampshire last July, he said, “If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it. As of January 2017, I will enforce federal laws.”
Then again, maybe not. Late Tuesday, New Hampshire news organizations reported that an Imperial Death Star had crashed and burned in the White Mountains. Crews were having difficulty reaching the site due to elevated levels of purple haze and schadenfreude in the area.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.