Let’s Pick & Choose What Federal Laws We Obey

lavarr policy insightsThe election was pretty good for advocates of medical and recreational marijuana, with a number of states making marijuana use legal – for certain purposes – according to state law.

Utah is now bordered by two states, Colorado on the east and Nevada on the west, where any adult can get “recreationally” high on marijuana. 

What’s interesting to me is that all these states allowing marijuana use (some 28 states now allow medical marijuana) are doing it in direct contravention of federal law. 

I’m not necessarily opposed to the medical use of marijuana. We’ll probably allow it in Utah once the science is settled. And I don’t begrudge states that allow recreational use. As far as I’m concerned, if that’s what you want to do, go ahead.

But I am scratching my head about the way these states are flagrantly violating federal law with no apparent consequences. The federal government clearly picks and chooses which laws it wants to enforce.

In one sense, the marijuana states are asserting states’ rights, seeking properly balanced federalism, by telling the federal government to jump in the lake. Sorry, we disagree with your cannabis laws. We’re just not going to obey them. 

Clearly, use of cannabis is illegal. Under federal law, it is treated like every other controlled substance, such as cocaine or heroin. Under the Controlled Substances Act, cannabis is classified as a Schedule 1 drug. It is viewed as highly addictive, having no medical value. Federal drug laws (except, apparently, for cannabis) are very serious with strict punishment.

The Drug Enforcement Administration even recently announced that while it will relax the rules for marijuana research, it will maintain marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. According to USA Today, the DEA concluded, “At this time, the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy.”

Despite that, state after state continues to defy federal drug laws.

So, my question is, if states can disobey federal drug laws without consequence, how about other laws? Why not see just how lenient federal agencies are in enforcing other laws and regulations? Why not test the limits, see how much leeway states have in the federal system?

For example, most western states are chafing over the management of wild horses by the federal Bureau of Land Management. The horses are multiplying so rapidly they’re destroying habitat and some are in danger of starvation. Capturing and keeping the horses is busting the BLM budget. Even the British newsweekly The Economist recently had a story about how wild horse management is being bungled.

Utah leaders and land managers think they can do a better job. So why not pass a state law that says Utah state land managers and wildlife officials will now manage wild horses and burros on all land in Utah? 

There are plenty of other laws we could violate. How about the state passes a law saying, we’re going to keep federal gas tax money in Utah and fund our own transportation projects? Or, how about violating the regulation that dictates the content of school lunches? Or sets the efficiency standards of urinals?

Ignoring federal law works with marijuana. Why not try it elsewhere?