November’s general election was undeniably historic. It was an election in which the increasingly polar climate of American politics truly reached a contentious extreme. While the most widely discussed race was obviously that in pursuit of the presidency, there were many other races throughout the country that provided results which indicated a tremendously divided public. One such race took place here in Arizona, and nine other states in which the legalization of marijuana appeared on the ballot. Proposition 205 didn’t pass here (I guess all of those signs on the side of the road asking “Would you be able to recognize marijuana? Would your children?” really hit home for some people), but recreational marijuana was successfully legalized in California, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Maine. This brings the total number of states where the recreational use of marijuana is legal to an all-time high of nine – a statistic that would have been completely unheard of forty years ago.
It appears the stigma that has historically surrounded marijuana as a gateway drug, or the inherent provider of corruption, is gradually disappearing. More and more research is being done as to the true effects of the drug, and it seems to have fewer adverse effects than the public has been led to believe. Indeed, anti-marijuana propaganda has been around for a long time so this shift in public sentiment in favor of the substance is certainly worth noting. As the public is becoming more comfortable with the recreational and medical uses of marijuana, legislation regarding the substance has been popping up all over the country and has been accompanied by much debate.
This week, Press Secretary Sean Spicer even indicated that the Department of Justice might also weigh in on the debate, stating the topic is something they would be “further looking into.” If the federal government does choose to promote stricter federal laws regarding marijuana use, the question of states rights becomes an issue. Federal action on this matter would infringe on states’ rights and undermine the balance between the states and the federal government that was built into the foundation of our governmental system. This is not a unique problem for our country, as we have seen in numerous cases throughout our history and our class discussions regarding Gideon v. Wainwright. When does the federal government reserve the right to impose legislation among the states? In the case of Gideon v. Wainwright, it can be easy to justify the implementation of a law that appears to protect the rights of all American citizens and uphold the “true American values.” And while there are many people who think that imposing stricter laws in regards to marijuana may contradict the values that are outlined in our Constitution, there are plenty of people who see this federal action as a protection of those same values. As with most highly debated issues in American politics, there isn’t a clear path to a solution outlined neatly in the Constitution. We can only hope that our elected officials represent us in a way that contributes to the protection of our rights as American citizens – whether or not that includes toking up every once and while.