Marijuana Legalization vs. Gay Marriage: Obama's Hypocrisy on States' Rights

In a now-familiar story of drug war overkill, D.C.-based hemp store Capitol Hemp will shutter the doors of its two locations in response to a government raid of their premises. In addition to clothing and toiletries made from industrial hemp, Capitol Hemp sells artisan glass pipes that could be used to smoke either tobacco or hemp’s notorious and illegal cousin, marijuana. Because the store also sold books advocating marijuana legalization, the pipes were deemed illegal “drug paraphernalia” by federal prosecutors. 

Capitol Hemp does not sell marijuana, although marijuana for medicinal use is legal in the District of Columbia. Federal agencies and prosecutors, however, are not bound by state or local law and can continue to harass or indict small businesses that operate on the fringe of American drug policy. In an apparent break from prior internal guidelines, the Obama administration’s Department of Justice has led a crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries, going as far as giving Californian businesses an ultimatum to shut down or face federal criminal charges.

This naked attack on duly-enacted state policies stands in stark contrast to President Obama’s recent pronouncement that states ought to be able decide their own course when it comes to persecuting gays

Federalism is the sensible proposition that the federal government should transfer more responsibility to state governments, which are closer to the people and are therefore better able to serve the democratic public. But there is no defensible principle of federalism that would justify, on the one hand, relentlessly suppressing state-led drug tolerance while, on the other hand, endorsing a state-led attack on civil rights. The localized effects of the drug trade make it suited for local enforcement and policymaking, while the national import of civil rights — and America’s history of state-led discrimination of racial minorities — caution against a preference for federalism in the civil rights context.

President Obama’s inconsistent policy of federalism is devoid of logic, but is rife with political opportunism. The Obama administration can claim federal supremacy when it comes to its domineering obstruction of local drug policy, but it can sound the trumpet of federalism to avoid alienating any independents while it placates supporters of gay marriage. 

This sort of “pragmatism” may make for a shrewd campaign strategy, but it leads to an incoherent and unpredictable federal policy that provides little guidance to citizens trying to make an honest living in compliance with the law. Established businesses like Capitol Hemp are left guessing whether their operations are legal or if federal officials will decide to prosecute them.

People should not live at the mercy of the President's whims. Rather than decide federalism on a politically motivated case-by-case basis, President Obama should implement a principled policy that rationally distributes authority between federal and state policymakers.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Jason Orr

Jason is a student at Harvard Law School and writes on legal and policy issues. A 2009 graduate of the College of William and Mary, he worked at the Institute for Justice in Arlington, Virginia, before reentering academia. Jason's views have been published in a number of print and online news outlets, including the Washington Post and the Daily Caller.

MORE FROM

‘Hot Mic’ podcast: GOP healthcare lives, Trump is angry with Sessions, Manafort subpoenaed

What you need to know for Wednesday, July 26.

UK bans all new diesel and gasoline cars starting in 2040

Britain is pushing for a move to cleaner, more efficient vehicles.

Thousands evacuated in French Riviera as wildfires break out along the coast

Fires are threatening the popular vacation destination.

Warrant suggests Justine Damond may have slapped police cruiser before she was fatally shot

The officers involved in the shooting remain on paid administrative leave.

House passes new sanctions against Russia by an enormous margin

The bill also places limits on Trump’s power to ease or end penalties against Russia.

Paul Manafort is meeting with Senate investigators. Here’s what we know about his Russia ties.

Paul Manafort has Russia links dating back more than 10 years.

‘Hot Mic’ podcast: GOP healthcare lives, Trump is angry with Sessions, Manafort subpoenaed

What you need to know for Wednesday, July 26.

UK bans all new diesel and gasoline cars starting in 2040

Britain is pushing for a move to cleaner, more efficient vehicles.

Thousands evacuated in French Riviera as wildfires break out along the coast

Fires are threatening the popular vacation destination.

Warrant suggests Justine Damond may have slapped police cruiser before she was fatally shot

The officers involved in the shooting remain on paid administrative leave.

House passes new sanctions against Russia by an enormous margin

The bill also places limits on Trump’s power to ease or end penalties against Russia.

Paul Manafort is meeting with Senate investigators. Here’s what we know about his Russia ties.

Paul Manafort has Russia links dating back more than 10 years.