The federal war on drugs is coming under attack from multiple angles, most recently with the introduction of a bill in Congress by conservative Rep. Ron Paul and liberal Rep. Barney Frank that would end the national prohibition on marijuana and allow states to set their own policies.
The “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011,” or HR 2306, would not “legalize” marijuana. If passed, the legislation would simply remove the plant from the federal list of “controlled substances.” States would then be free to regulate, tax, or prohibit it without U.S. government interference.
One of the important issues the bill would remedy is an ongoing conflict between federal authorities and numerous states that have nullified U.S. statutes by decriminalizing the possession of marijuana or legalizing it for medicinal purposes.
The legal medical-marijuana industry has flourished in over a dozen states in recent years in spite of the federal prohibition. But despite promising not to squander taxpayer money pursuing the issue, the Obama administration has actually increased federal bullying of state officials and the industry as a whole.
The new legislation, said to be the first of its kind introduced in Congress, also touches on several important questions beyond whether or not marijuana should be criminalized. And it puts conservatives in Congress who support federal drug prohibition while claiming to support the Constitution in an awkward position.
As opponents of the federal drug war point out, the U.S. government does not have any authority under the Constitution to ban substances, harmful or otherwise. That’s why alcohol prohibition required a constitutional amendment. So, under the Tenth Amendment, regulation of drugs necessarily falls under the purview of the states or the people.
But beyond the obvious constitutional problems with the federal war, supporters of the new legislation also argue that the policies have been an expensive failure with atrocious consequences.
“The war against marijuana causes so much hardship and accomplishes nothing,” Rep. Paul said during an interview about the proposal, noting that marijuana is helpful to many cancer patients. “We knew prohibition of alcohol was very bad, so this is just getting back to a sensible position on how we handle difficult problems.”
The 2012 GOP presidential candidate also said a trillion dollars had already been spent to fight the war on drugs. “And it’s a catastrophe, just as prohibition of alcohol was a catastrophe,” he explained. “Kids today have an easier time finding marijuana than they can alcohol.”
Liberal Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who introduced the bill with Paul, also blasted federal policies on the substance. "Criminally prosecuting adults for making the choice to smoke marijuana is a waste of law enforcement resources and an intrusion on personal freedom," he told reporters.
"I do not advocate urging people to smoke marijuana. Neither do I urge them to drink alcoholic beverages or smoke tobacco,” Frank added. “But in none of these cases do I think prohibition enforced by criminal sanctions is good public policy.”