Doobious Strategy: on the pot wars

Doobious Strategy

by digby

Kevin Drum writes:

Over at Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson has a good piece about the Obama administration's sudden about-face on medical marijuana. Initially they made soothing noises and announced that they wouldn't target pot dispensaries that complied with state law. Then, last year, everything changed:

The reversal began at the Drug Enforcement Agency with Michele Leonhart, a holdover from the Bush administration who was renominated by Obama to head the DEA…Almost immediately, federal prosecutors went on the attack. Their first target: the city of Oakland, where local officials had moved to raise millions in taxes by licensing high-tech indoor facilities for growing medical marijuana…Two months later, federal prosecutors in Washington state went even further…In isolation, such moves might be seen as the work of overzealous U.S. attorneys, who operate with considerable autonomy. But last June, the Justice Department effectively declared that it was returning to the Bush administration's hard-line stance on medical marijuana.

Kevin posits a number of possible reasons for this from a rogue DEA to genuine administration nervousness about people using marijuana. (My personal belief is that they have decided to run as law and order Republicans in the same way they are positioning themselves as tough guys on immigration and national security.) Nobody really knows the answer.

But over at Obsidian Wings, Sebastian wonders if this isn't one of those perfect issues to leave to the states. That's really what's happening anyway, with the Feds just inserting themselves where they aren't wanted. And it sounds good to use federalism to advance this goal, since the Federal Government can't seem to let go of its desire to stop marijuana use for whatever reason. And that's probably better than nothing, certainly for someone like me who lives in California and would be able to access what I needed fairly easily if I got ill.

But I just don't agree with this way of doing things. Federalism is a recipe for inequality. We are supposed to be one country and "American" is a national identity (which ironically conservatives usually wear with special pride. So why should it be ok for rights to be apportioned according to arbitrary boundaries that were established over centuries of territorial expansion? I get that they make sense for some things. Local government exists everywhere. But we fetishize the independence of the states as a direct throwback to colonial America in a way that no longer makes any sense.

Last night I saw Rick Perry on Fox blathering on for quite some time about the 10th Amendment as if it had come down from Mt Sinai. He's so far into tentherism that he now presents himself as a Texan first and an American second. That's his privilege,of course, but it's awfully convenient. (You know he'll be the first to wrap himself in the American flag when it suits his purpose.) This is becoming more common among the far right and it's starting to sound a little bit, dare I say it, unpatriotic.

While I certainly don't care about the right's temporary abandonment of their martial chauvanism (that's probably a good thing) I do think this resurgence of states' rights is a blight. I can see its utility in advancing my own causes. But as a matter of principle it always makes me uncomfortable. I think cancer patients in Oklahoma should have the same right to access medicine as cancer patients in Colorado. It seems to me that that's the "American way."

I don't want the Federal Government to just stop enforcing its laws against medical marijuana in states that have legalized it. I want the Federal Government to legalize it for the whole country. I assume that's the goal of the various organizations working on this as well. But I'm not convinced that the "laboratories of democracy" will necessarily make that happen sooner. History shows more examples of the states obstructing forward progress than enabling it.