The following is based on a speech given to the LP Mises Caucus “Take Human Action Bash” in New Orleans on June 30, 2018
In 1996, voters in California passed Prop 215, the “compassionate use act,” to legalize marijuana for limited medical purposes. In the run up to the vote, three presidents came out to California to explain that voters couldn’t do this.
Why not? According to their messaging, the supremacy clause of the constitution says that federal law always wins. And marijuana is illegal under federal law.
Well, that marketing campaign didn’t work out too well for them.
When Prop 215 passed, the message from the Clinton administration was the same – we don’t recognize your state law. Attorney General Janet Reno said, ”We want to make clear that Federal law still applies.”
An LA Times article from Jan. 1997 repeated the same message, noting that “Federal officials … vowed to pursue California physicians who recommend marijuana for their patients.”
The threats from the Clinton administration didn’t stop people in California, or other states for that matter. And by the end of his term, seven states authorized medical marijuana in defiance of federal law.
From there, the Bush administration ramped it up, taking a hard-line public stance asserting federal law ruled the roost on weed, conducting roughly 200 marijuana raids in states over his two terms. And in 2005, the Supreme Court also affirmed this uncompromising federal prohibition in a famous case known as Gonzales v. Raich.
Angel has an inoperable brain tumor – she’s going to die from it. But her doctor recommended that she treat it with marijuana. So under the compassionate use act, her caregiver Diane grew six plants in her backyard to help treat Angel’s tumor.
Well, the DEA – with the help of the Butte County Sheriff’s department – that’s local law enforcement in Northern California – came to Diane’s home and destroyed those 6 plants.
Diane and Angel sued the federal government and it went all the way to the supreme court, where her doctor declared under oath that Angel’s life was at stake if she could not continue to use marijuana.
How did the court respond? Well under the heroic leadership of conservative icon Justice Scalia, the court held that growing six plants in your own backyard under state law, never buying or selling them, and then consuming them in your own home qualified as “interstate commerce,” that could be regulated, controlled, and banned by the federal government.
But Angel didn’t stop treating herself because the federal government said she had to – she publicly announced that she’d continue to use marijuana and work to help others who chose to.
None of this federal enforcement stopped the trend in the states either. By the time Bush left office – even with the supreme court fully on his side – there were 13 states defying the feds on marijuana.
From there, the Obama administration ramped it up still further.
Now I know the propaganda is strong in this country – and for some reason, there are people who want you to believe that Obama took a hands off approach on weed.
This is a total lie.
By the end of just his first term, his administration conducted more raids – 270 – and spent more on federal enforcement efforts than the previous three terms of Bush and Clinton combined.
Even with Obama’s heavy ramp up, at the end of his two terms, there were 29 states with some form of marijuana legalization on the books.
Last year, West Virginia made it 30. Earlier this year Utah made it 31. And on June 26, even after over a year of threats from Jeff Sessions, Oklahoma became state number 32.
COLORADO & CALIFORNIA
Just about 5 weeks before Colorado’s retail marijuana law went into effect in Jan 2014, Obama and the DEA sent a warning shot by conducting the biggest set of marijuana raids in Colorado history.
That didn’t work either – today, it’s a $1.2 billion business per year.
Even Colorado’s massive sales are small compared to California, which slowly started retail sales just this year. As a medical product, marijuana is the #1 cash crop in the state – about $2.8 billion in sales per year. That’s more than milk, almonds and grapes – combined.
Recreational marijuana is expected to hit around $5 billion/year in 2019 or 2020.
There are over 700 licensed marijuana shops in Los Angeles alone, with hundreds more operating without government permission. That’s more than Starbucks and 7-11… combined.
We ran some numbers, and while this isn’t exact, it’s pretty close – it would take about 40% of the DEA’s yearly budget to shut down just Los Angeles.
Here’s how I put it back in 2015:
“Even in face of increasing federal enforcement measures, the states found the winning path. It’s only a matter of time before they overwhelm federal enforcement capabilities completely, and the feds will have to act like they’ve decided to drop the issue just to save face.”
And that’s exactly what we’re on the verge of seeing happen today.
I could spend the entire day giving you examples of heroes like Angel Raich – instead I hope you keep her in mind and this advice from Murray Rothbard whenever you’re working for liberty:
For the libertarian, the main task of the present epoch is to cast off his needless and debilitating pessimism, to set his sights on long-run victory and to set about the road to its attainment.
Our long-run victory is liberty, but it’s not going to happen overnight. I want the government people to get the hell out of my life and yours. And the only way that’s going to happen is if we work together to nullify them into oblivion.