Thomas Jefferson said a revolution every 20 years would be a good thing. Regardless of what one thinks of that, perhaps a little constitutional crisis every now and then would have its benefits.
One such crisis may be brewing now. On election day, solid majorities of voters in Colorado and Washington voted to make marijuana a legal product, not just for people who are certified as ill, but for everyone. Several states already allow marijuana use for medical purposes. These two states, however, are blazing trails by recognizing the freedom of all adults to smoke or otherwise consume the plant.
The problem, of course, is that the federal government forbids the manufacture, sale, and use of marijuana (and many other substances) for any purpose. So what happens now? We already have some idea: 20 states and the District of Columbia currently permit (or refuse to penalize) medical marijuana in defiance of federal law. Despite early assurances to the contrary, the Obama administration has cracked down on legal state-licensed marijuana dispensaries in California to a far greater degree than the Bush administration ever did.
During the Bush years, Californians challenged federal anti-marijuana policy against the state, but the Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Raich (2005) sided with the central government, ruling that the Constitution’s Commerce Clause empowers the feds to prohibit marijuana manufacturing and consumption even when a state law permits it for medical purposes.
Is the Obama administration going to stand by and permit the recreational use of pot in Washington and Colorado when it tries to stop its medical use in California? It hardly seems likely. But does it want to ignite open resistance by cracking down? The feds are in a bind.