I remember as a child taking the obligatory family trip to our nation’s capital. But as a very young child at the time, the only concept I understood was that of the 50 states. I remember asking my parents to explain why it was the “District” of Columbia, and not a state. I didn’t understand their answer.
These days in my adult life, however, the script has flipped. It feels as if we’re all just districts of the federal government, and there are no states: The District of Oklahoma, The District of Florida, The District of Colorado.
Almost every inch of highway where you live has some kind of mix of federal dollars – and therefore rules and strings attached that make sure you do it their way. Same is true for Medicare, Medicaid, education, the environment, and on and on. Heck, even numerous child care subsidy programs across the nation come with federal dollars, ergo federal regulations and how-to’s. The best a state can do is tinker on the edges. The federal government has painted the portrait; the states get to choose the picture frame. Yippee.
Forget Joe DiMaggio; where have you gone, Federalism? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you!
The reassuring answer to the question is: now that the U.S. Supreme Court has made its vast, sweeping decision on gay marriage, federalism has gone to pot. Whether you like it or not, the boundaries and frontiers of federalism are being pushed by marijuana. Dropping the “War on Drugs” has given a shot in the arm to the “War Against Federal Overreach.”
It’s worth pointing out the notion of federalism is a genuine zero-sum game. When one of the participants advances in power, it’s at the expense of the other player in the game. So trust me, if you’re not the one pushing the boundaries, I guarantee the boundaries are pushing on you.
Until now, one could certainly argue that when a state legalized gay marriage, they were vigorously exercising the sovereignty and independence the founders intended. And I would not think badly of someone that argued that gay marriage had been the tip of the spear, the most important ongoing “experiment” when it comes to the exercise of state sovereignty.
While gay marriage issues were certainly emotional, they weren’t as dramatic in federalist terms. The question ultimately was: Is this action of marriage legal in an area where federal law is silent? With the legalization of recreational pot use, however, the citizens of Colorado knew fully well they were directly challenging the stated status quo of federal criminal laws. What else could be so daring?
And the challenge didn’t just stop with legalizing the use of the drug. The citizens of Colorado who voted approval for marijuana legalization knew they were initiating a monetary struggle as well. A dispensary in Colorado was recently refunded fines from the IRS – fines which had been levied on the business because they didn’t pay their federal tax withholdings electronically. They hadn’t paid electronically because banks won’t transact with the pot shops because they’re conducting a business in violation of criminal law. Where do we get the gall to flaunt the feds? State sovereignty.
All of this you may know. All of this, you probably considered before I did. But what’s head-scratching then is why Presidential candidates like Rick Santorum and Ben Carson couldn’t at least issue lip service in praise of states’ rights like former Texas Gov. Rick Perry recently did. According to the Washington Examiner, Perry said at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver:
“Let this country compete again — I am so optimistic about the future of America if we will free up the states from this one size fits all, you’ll see innovation. And from time to time a states gonna foul it up,” Perry said. Then giving the example of Colorado and marijuana legalization he added, “You think about. Experimentation, Colorado comes to mind. But I defend the right for Colorado to be wrong on that issue! It’s their right.”
Chris Christie on the other hand seems to be eager and greedy to wield federal power in order to “crack down” on pot. Next thing you know, Christie will be designing new federal rules for the collection of bridge tolls.
Making the head-scratching worse times 10 is that all of the eagerness to “crack down on pot” is coming from Republican presidential candidates who will almost certainly need Colorado’s electoral votes if they hope to win the White House. “270 to win” includes Colorado’s 9.