So why aren’t Nevada’s Republicans all over the bid to legalize marijuana?
On Friday, when lawmakers heard Assemblyman Joe Hogan’s bill to allow adults 21 years old and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana — and to tax it to raise money for schools — Republicans raised some strong objections.
Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, started out by identifying himself as “a states’ rights guy,” but immediately asked Hogan, D-Las Vegas, and his co-sponsor, Assemblyman Andrew Martin, D-Las Vegas, if the federal government had changed its law.
Um, no, it has not. Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, those which — according to the government — “have no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision and a high potential for abuse.”
Other Schedule I controlled substances include club drugs such as MDMA, date rape drugs such as GHB, powerful narcotics such as fentanyl and street drugs such as heroin, mescaline and LSD.
Which of these is not like the others?
But back to Hansen: Why is a prohibition in federal law sufficient grounds to stop doing something? If you’re a “states’ rights guy,” wouldn’t you turn to the U.S. Constitution to find the government’s specific authority to tell its citizens they cannot smoke marijuana? And having unsuccessfully searched out that document for the non-existent prohibition, would you not then endorse Hogan’s idea to move forward? And doesn’t your prescription — to instead advance a petition to the federal government to change its laws — sound a little like a subject of distant federal kings going on bended knee to Washington to beg our national mother-may-I?
Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas, told the proponents that legalizing marijuana would bring the wrath of the federal government, which would still be authorized to arrest and prosecute drug users under still-in-place federal law. (That’s true enough.)
But I’m betting if I approached Fiore and demanded she hand over the 15-round magazine in her favorite Glock 19 handgun, because the federal government was thinking of limiting magazines to 10 rounds, she’d refuse. I’m guessing she could cite chapter and verse as to why the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court decisions secure her rights to carry a 15-round magazine the way God and Gaston Glock intended.
So why not say the same thing when it comes to marijuana? No matter the fact that federal law prohibits marijuana, the 10th Amendment reserves to the states the powers not delegated to the federal government, or the people. You know, that’s the rule cited by people when the feds prohibit grazing or road-building on federally owned land.
Why not just consider this a sagebrush hemp rebellion, Republicans?
It was Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Minden, with the most on-point objection: Didn’t this idea fail when it was put up for a vote of the people? Indeed, it did: In 2002, the idea was rejected, 61 percent to 39 percent, and in 2006, it failed 56 percent to 44 percent. Another attempt to get it on the ballot failed when not enough signatures were submitted.
Is that dispositive? Not necessarily. Like anything else, people change their minds on the subject. Voters in Washington state and Colorado legalized marijuana in November. Polls are showing greater acceptance of legalization. If it were put to a vote today, would the outcome have changed since 2006? Perhaps.
It’s understandable why religious conservatives oppose legalization — they believe the government should be able to tell people how to live their lives. It’s understandable why cops oppose it; they’ve seen lives destroyed by drugs (although alcohol is far, far worse, and totally legal). Plus, it’s bad for their business.
But it’s perplexing why supposedly small-government, pro-states’ rights Republicans would be skittish about supporting Hogan’s bill.
There must be a reason, right?
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or email@example.com.