Although Colorado and Washington have legalized the sale and possession of marijuana for recreational purposes, possession and distribution of the drug remain a crime under federal law.
However, the U.S. government, including the DEA, has been exempting the residents of those two states from federal drug law enforcement.
That is obviously a good thing for people selling or consuming marijuana in those two states. However, it is not a good thing when it comes to the rule of law and the principle of equal treatment under law.
When a federal law is enacted, it should be enforced equally against everyone. When public officials wield the power to pick and choose which people are going to be forced to comply with the law, that is a hallmark of a tyrannical regime. That’s what we call the “rule of men,” as compared to the “rule of law.” The rule of men enables public officials to enforce laws arbitrarily, capriciously, and in an ad-hoc manner. The rule of law requires public officials to apply the law against everyone equally, without favoritism to any particular group.
What is the Obama administration’s justification for declining to enforce federal marijuana laws in Colorado and Washington? U.S. officials say that they have the authority to allocate scarce resources in law enforcement.
Granted, but does that authorize them to exempt whatever state it wants with respect to the enforcement of federal laws? Absolutely not! If they wish to reduce the number of people who are arrested for violating federal drug laws, then the correct policy, under the rule of law, is to reduce the number of people who are arrested all across the nation. Selecting entire states for privileged treatment, whereby people in those states are free to violate federal laws, while people in other states are being punished for violating such laws, is the epitome of tyranny.
To put the matter starkly, suppose the feds announced that they were going to enforce federal drugs laws in only California, Texas, New York, and Florida and not do so in all other states. It is easy to see that there would be something definitely wrong with that picture. The reasoning is no different when the federal government picks out two states for law-enforcement exemption.
While the rule of law is not a sufficient policy for a free society, it is a necessary pre-requisite for a free society. For how can people genuinely be considered free when public officials wield the authority to pick and choose which people are going to be required to comply with the law?
The federal government needs to either enforce federal marijuana laws equally against everyone in every state, including Colorado and Washington, or repeal such laws.
Actually at this point, repeal is the only really legitimate course the federal government can take. With its decision to not enforce federal marijuana laws in Colorado and Washington, federal drug officials are essentially saying that marijuana consumption is not that big a deal — at least not so big a deal that the feds want to spend time and money going after people who are consuming or selling it in those two states. But what about the other 48 states? There, the feds are telling federal judges that marijuana sales and consumption are terrible acts for which people need to be punished.
Which is it? If marijuana consumption is bad, then why aren’t the feds enforcing their laws in Colorado and Washington? If marijuana consumption is not so bad as to necessitate federal enforcement in Colorado and Washington, then why are federal personnel enforcing such laws in the other 48 states?
Ideally, all federal drug laws, including laws regarding marijuana, would be repealed. They have caused enough damage to liberty and privacy and have ruined enough lives, without any benefit to society whatsoever. But until repeal of federal drug laws comes, the rule of law and the principle of equal treatment under law dictates that federal laws be enforced against everyone in every state rather than exempting those in privileged states, like Colorado and Washington.