According to a poll by the Marijuana Policy Project, nearly three quarters of respondents believe that the federal government should defer to a state’s decision to legalize marijuana for certain uses, even when federal law calls for stricter enforcement:
QUESTION: Currently, 16 states plus the District of Columbia have made the medical use of marijuana legal. In some of these states, individuals have been authorized to cultivate and sell medical marijuana under tightly regulated conditions. However, medical marijuana use remains illegal under federal law, even in states that have passed laws or ballot measures that allow it for medical treatment.
Do you feel President Obama should: (ORDER ROTATED)
– Respect the medical marijuana laws in these states, or
– Use federal resources to arrest and prosecute individuals who are acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws? . . .
RESPECT STATE LAWS 74% . . .
PROSECUTE FED LAW 15% . . .
NOT SURE 11% . . .
To be fair, much of the language in this poll question is highly suggestive — the phrase “tightly regulated conditions,” for example, implies that marijuana use will still be closely guarded even in states with relatively permissive laws — so it is likely that the poll would not have achieved such a dramatic contrast if it had used less loaded language. Nevertheless, the poll is consistent with other polls showing increased support for liberalization of marijuana policy, including a recent Gallup poll showing majority support for outright legalization.
The poll also highlights the very real political danger facing progressive lawmakers if they continue to support a marijuana policy that is both overreaching and unpopular. Regardless of how they poll, there is simply no question that federal marijuana laws are constitutional. The Constitution gives Congress the power to “regulate commerce . . . among the several states,” and this includes the power to ban a substance from commerce entirely. Moreover, states simply do not have the power to nullify federal laws that they do not wish their citizens to be required to follow.
Nevertheless, many tenther activists who believe that everything from Social Security to Medicare to national child labor laws violate the Constitution are aggressively trying to entice young people into their movement by highlighting the fact that their misreading of the Constitution would also lead to federal marijuana laws being declared unconstitutional — or, at least, significantly rolled back. Progressive lawmakers can ill-afford to cede a generation of young voters to an extremist movement simply because they would rather cling to policies the country neither wants nor benefits from.