The Cannabis Legalization Debate: Federal v. State

In light of the Justice Department’s decision to use prosecutorial discretion in the pursuit of marijuana offenders, and the latest release made by the department stating that it will not “sue to block laws legalizing marijuana in 20 states and the District of Columbia…” (New York Times), this might be a good time to analyze some of our current prohibition laws concerning cannabis, and the juxtaposition between State’s rights and the Federal laws that stand in contradiction. It is not my opinion that the federal government has any right to regulate the intrastate commerce of the cultivation and use of marijuana, even if it is for commercial use. So long, of course, that that use is contained within a given state where the voters have declared it legal for recreational use (i.e. Colorado, Washington).

My opinion notwithstanding, the Supreme Court has ruled in the case of Gonzales v. Raich 2005 that Congress does in fact hold jurisdiction on the regulation of any article of commodity under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. Drawing on the case of Wickard v. Filburn 1942, the Court has found that the regulation of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act 1970 by Congress, albeit intrastate commerce, has a reasonable affect on the entire market of marijuana cultivation. Concluded are the similarities between Gonzales v. Raich, and Wickard v. Filburn, where in the latter it was ruled that wheat production fell under the Commerce Clause, giving Congress the authority to tell farmers when and how to grow their own wheat, even if only for personal consumption.

What this means is, according to these rulings, Congress has full authority to tell you what you can and cannot grow. Let’s replace marijuana, or even wheat with more common garden vegetables, such as tomatoes. Most people with gardens will grow tomatoes, and Congress, according to the Court, has authority in regulating a particular garden hobbyist’s cultivation of something as innocuous as tomato cultivation. The Court ruled since the cultivation and consumption of a particular commodity may affect the overall market of that commodity, in aggregate or otherwise, it may be controlled by our federal government. If you were to grow and consume anything, then that may prevent you from buying them somewhere else, and if we all grow our own vegetables, and were self sustained, Congress would have full authority to end this practice. Therefore, cannabis cultivation, if grown and consumed within a state, and not for commercial use, may be outlawed, because “If Congress decides that the ‘total incidence’ of a practice poses a threat to a national market, it may regulate the entire class.” ( Marijuana cultivation poses a variety of difficulties for all who enforce the laws contained within the Controlled Substances Act, being the DEA et al.

Eric Holder simply chose to use prosecutorial discretion on this matter. In my opinion, it is due to the large task at hand of using limited resources to undermine the people of Colorado, and Washington’s new laws. There is a quote I recall from which I cannot remember the author. That quote may loosely state that the people can be policed only as much as the people choose to be policed. There is only so much law enforcement can do when a great majority is in violation of a given law. I believe that the further decriminalization and legalization of marijuana from state to state will only confound and undercut any administration’s efforts to control what their own constituents have approved per state.


Democracy is not all about the money

In the past few years, increasingly since the turn of the century, and possibly since the Clinton era, Americans have become much more polarized within our electoral system. What we continually hear from nearly every nook of the political media is how divided Americans have become concerning governmental policy in the United States. Elections in this day and age are being fiercely waged immediately following a fresh election. Politicians, new and incumbent, are constantly running for office. The media and technology monsoons that have overtaken our political landscape may be the cause that has effected the sharp rise we have seen in recent campaign financing. As technology, information, and media grows, candidates need to increase staff and resources to simply manage this beast.

As many people are familiar with, the Citizen’s United v. Federal Election Commission ruling by the Supreme Court, in which five of the nine Justices ruled that “the First Amendment applies to corporations”, paved the way for an unheard of amount of corporate dollars to be flooded into our electoral system. Now it’s been argued that this money, or influence if you will, is having a profound effect on our election outcomes. Basically, the candidate who raises the most money is able to influence the race in his/her favor. There is however, other dynamics to this unfortunate outcome that have been overlooked. You may be thinking that our democracy has been hijacked, or that corporations, special interest groups, and various lobbyists can now structure our political outcomes based solely on cash infusion in respective campaigns. While this may in part be true, let’s not forget who really runs our democracy: We do! We run it, and we always have. The problem is, who are we? We, basically are a bunch of lazy, disorganized, misinformed slackers who cannot be bothered with showing up to the polls (well at least most of us anyway). Sure, we’ve had slightly better election turnouts in recent years, but for the most part, Americans are sick of politics. And even more than politics in general, which we tend to have a love/hate relationship with, we are sick of our choices, and tend to feel an insouciant languor towards our entire political system.

So if we are in fact so lazy, with such low voter turnout, then who is controlling us? Who is controlling what happens to us on a governmental level? It certainly isn’t you or me. Or is it? Is our inaction, disorganization, and indolence all culprits, responsible for the outcomes of our elections? I would assert that they are, in fact. Keep in mind that the ones that control our electorate are a minority, or minorities (and no, I don’t mean ethnic or social class minorities). The minorities I’m referring to are the corporations, special interest groups, and lobbyists I mentioned earlier. Is it their infusion of money that gives them power? Well, yes and no… maybe. You take any politically active group, be it the NRA, or AARP. Their campaign dollars may very well entice candidates and persuade elections, but really, the one thing these two vastly different organizations share are the numbers of voting members they both hold, and the influence over those members that give THEM money, and certainly not the other way around. It is these voters whom they have plenty of influence over that decides these elections. It is their numbers, their organization, and their willingness to vote that really sways elections. They have prominence in media. They can mobilize quickly and inform voters of the issues. Yes, this certainly all takes money, but it is this money that is used to organize their ilk to make a difference at the polls. Without it, they would be just as disorganized, and ineffectual as you or me.

Our democracy is dependent upon, and a product of, our voice at the polls. While one person’s vote doesn’t make much of a difference, our united voices, and blocs of votes most certainly does. We have basically two parties vying for control. It is one of these two parties who are destined to win elections. It is either Republicans or Democrats. We won’t see third party candidates get very far in elections, let alone Independents, because they are small, effete, and powerless in the face of these behemoth institutions which have controlled our electorate for centuries. These institutions, or parties, are highly organized, and it is their organization that accumulates their wealth. That wealth then helps to generate further organization. Where did it all start? Did it begin with wealth? Did it start as some sort of Aristocracy spending fortunes that have been inherited that created this organizational prowess, or was it the organizational prowess that fueled the wealth? My bet is the latter.

So this democracy of ours, for which we are so fortunate to be members of, is not only increased  when citizens become informed and coordinate with one another, but at the same time, diminished. It is the people of the United States who decide elections, not money. It is the people of the United States who control our democracy in numbers, and it is those same people who feel the burdensome demoralization of having our democracy stolen from us by the few. The very thing that fuels our society is the same thing that corrupts it. Money isn’t what it’s all about. Mobilization is what it’s about, which takes money, yet generates more money than it takes, and begins with little to no money. If we organize as a nation, the populace, the whole mass of us, united, we can create a change in government. Without it, we are doomed, and we are not doomed to corporate dollars stealing our democracy. We are doomed by our own devices.