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For me and many others who live in the DC Metro area, Congress (or more properly the House of Representatives) has just gone one toke over the line. People were pretty mellow over marijuana being legalized, and then the House had to go and harsh our mellow with a rider preventing DC from doing just that. What a half-baked proposal!
The $680 million DC appropriations section of the “Cromnibus” spending bill has a rider attached that overrules Initiative 71, which legalized marijuana in DC without allowing for the regulation and sale of marijuana. The rider, located on page 660 and copying word-for-word a proposal submitted by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) earlier in the year, says, according to CNN:
None of the funds contained in this act may be used to enact or carry out any law, rule or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act or any tetrhydrocannabinols derivative for recreational purposes.
The House is trying to reimpose federal drug laws on the District, which it has the ability to do largely through the 1973 Home Rule Act, which gave Congress the powers to veto DC laws and furthermore decide how much federal funding DC receives.
To the Republicans in the House, I ask you: how does this best encapsulate the principles of limited government? How does overruling the democratic decisions of the people, albeit those who live in the federal district, live up to the principles of localized power and limited government that are the ideological backbone of your party? How does this heavy-handed paternalism stay constant with our values?
To be fair, of course, there are many responses one could have to such a question. Those of you who believe in a sola scriptura interpretation of the Constitution can point to those clauses dealing with DC, a federal city therefore subject to federal laws despite the will of its inhabitants. Law and order conservatives will, as always, stand beside the War on Drugs, along with religious conservatives like Andy Harris.
It is my opinion however—and the opinion furthermore of many I know who live in DC or, as I do, in the DC metro area—that this is not limited government. In the words of DC Council member David Grosso (IA) in the Washington Post, “To undermine the vote of the people — taxpayers — does not foster or promote the “limited government” stance House Republicans claim they stand for; it’s uninformed paternalistic meddling.”
If the GOP wants to brand itself as the party of limited governance and furthermore as the heirs to Jeffersonian localism, then decisions like this, decisions to overrule a locality’s decision, damage that brand. This is not limited government, but heavy-handed government: the direct coercion of a local government through the federal government’s funds, as seen on the state level over highway and education funds, time and time again.
Furthermore, we should also consider the idea of personal autonomy. What right is it of the government to interfere in what people ingest into their bodies? We allow people to drink to the point of alcohol poisoning, we still allow people to ingest the carcinogens in tobacco, and, for all the efforts of the nanny state, we still allow people to drink large sodas and eat unhealthy food. What makes marijuana different? In my opinion, effective propaganda by William Randolph Hearst and decades of paranoia.
Let me also address this from a pragmatic angle. The War on Drugs is a failure. Pious incantations that weed must be illegal “for the youth” are nothing more than sound and fury. They are the latter-day echoes of Prohibition, that ill-considered Progressive attempt to improve the souls of men by banning alcohol.
Instead, organized crime boomed and people continued drinking illicitly however they could. Today, drug cartels ravage Central America (contributing to illegal immigration here) and people, well, smoke weed at home and in cars illicitly, regardless of laws.
People smoke weed, sell weed, transport weed, and buy and transport paraphernalia to smoke weed, all the time. They fear arrest, surely, but not enough to stop them from smoking or otherwise getting their fix of THC. If this bill goes through, people in DC will continue to do all of those things, as they did before. All the force of federal law and propaganda across decades of this drug war has accomplished very little, despite all the money that has been spent.
Doing this to send a message on marijuana or on the supremacy of federal law accomplishes neither; what worth is a law that everyone ignores, despite the legal risk? What worth is a policy—a War on Drugs—that costs us so much money in prisons and enforcement? Suspend the moral arguments: this policy has not, does not, and will not work. It is the epitome of bloated government, of money being wasted time and again.
I can sympathize with Andy Harris. He’s a family man and a man of law and order; he’s your typical suburban conservative. He’s also a doctor, with experience from Johns Hopkins, and he approaches this issue with a medical perspective. DC legalization is pertinent to him as a Maryland congressmen, just as it was pertinent to me as a Montgomery County resident.
And so, while I thoroughly disagree with his opinion, his rider, and this entire War on Drugs, I cannot blame him for following his values and getting it into the Cromnibus. He did what he thought was right, and thwarted what he thought was a possible chance for criminal activity between Maryland and DC.
Those of us who wanted marijuana to be legal in DC—to lift the burden of illegality off of the backs of many, to allow adults to enjoy themselves in the privacy of their homes—will just have to wait a while more. Coming down off the high of our hopes is never easy, and this time is no different.
Featured image from Shutterstock