When states take action that defies the feds, people will eventually get on board.
Recent polling on federal enforcement of marijuana prohibition in states that have legalized the plant bears this out, and shows Americans support nullification in practice, even if not in name.
Public Policy Polling surveyed voters in the early primary states of New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina, and found that overwhelming majorities agree that “states should be able to carry out their own marijuana laws without federal interference.”
In South Carolina, 65 percent agreed that the feds should leave states alone to administer their own policies on weed. Just 16 percent think that “the federal government should arrest and prosecute people who are following state marijuana laws.”
In New Hampshire, 73 percent agreed that states should carry out their own marijuana laws, and in Iowa it was 71 percent.
Marijuana Majority commissioned the poll. When the organization broke down the results by demographics, they found consistent majorities believe the federal government should not enforce its prohibition in states that have legalized marijuana. This proved true even among Republicans and older voters, groups less likely to support marijuana legalization.
“Across the three state polls, the new data shows majority support for letting states set their own marijuana laws without federal interference among all political persuasions and demographics, including Republicans, 2012 Mitt Romney voters, people older than 65 and those who identify as very conservative. While support for scaling back federal prohibition is higher among Democrats than Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire, Republicans in South Carolina more strongly back states’ rights to enact marijuana laws than Democrats there do.”
The public policy polling mirrors results from other nationwide surveys. A Pew poll showed that 59 percent of Americans do not want the federal government to enforce marijuana laws in states that allow legal use, and CBS News found 58 percent support for the idea that marijuana laws should be set by states instead of the federal government.
Most importantly, this does not merely reflect a growing acceptance of marijuana in society. Many who disapprove of legalizing the plant still believe the feds should butt out of the issue.
“Regardless of whether they personally support legalization, voters in these early primary states strongly support scaling back the war on marijuana so that local laws can be enacted without federal harassment,” Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority said.
This clearly demonstrates Americans support nullification in practice and intuitively oppose Washington D.C. imposing its will on people in all 50 states, even when it comes to issues they may disagree on.
The federal government maintains total prohibition of marijuana for any purpose in the United States. But the feds lack any constitutional authority to prohibit or regulate marijuana within the borders of any state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Despite federal law, a 2005 Supreme Court opinion and relentless attempts to enforce prohibition by three successive presidential administrations, state defiance of the marijuana ban continues to grow.
Beginning in California with legalization of cannabis for medical use in 1996, states have advanced the issue each year. Today, 17 states have decriminalized marijuana possession, 19 states have legalized it for medical use, and Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska have legalized it for recreational use.
Each year, new state laws and regulations continue to expand the industry, and each expansion further nullifies in practice the unconstitutional federal ban. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization and decriminalization.
The fact so many people support these state actions undermining federal authority may seem counterintuitive. After all, the media tends to treat anybody challenging federal supremacy as an “extremist.” And of course, mention the word “nullification” and you will find yourself branded a “neo-confederate” racist.
But when it comes to real-life state action that defies and undermines federal power, Americans can and do enthusiastically get on board.
Michael Maharrey serves as the national communications director for the Tenth Amendment Center, and the executive director for OffNow.