Chuck Schumer has other reasons than federalism for telling Vice News that he has changed his mind on legalizing marijuana at the federal level. It’s just that the others are more clearly believable. “Are you just doing this to piss Jeff Sessions off?” asks Shawna Thomas. “That would be a benefit,” Schumer replies with a laugh, “but I hadn’t thought about it.”
More pointedly, Thomas asks whether this is just an election-year “ploy,” to which Schumer demurs less convincingly:
The legislation, which Schumer’s office expects will be released within the next week, has six main points. First, it would remove marijuana from Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of controlled substances, which would end federal prohibition and leave it up to states to decide how to regulate the drug. Schumer stopped short of calling it legalization, but de-scheduling would essentially make marijuana legal at the federal level. …
While this looks like an obvious election year-play, Schumer claimed it wasn’t about he looming 2018 or 2020 elections.
“I’m doing it because I think it’s the right thing to do. I’ve seen too many people’s lives ruined by the criminalization,” he said. “If we benefit, so be it. But that’s not my motivation.”
That’s what Schumer said on Twitter, too. In announcing his intent to file legislation to deschedule marijuana, Schumer first embraced federalism as his guiding light:
I have long believed that states should function as their own laboratories of democracy. My bill is a step in the right direction aimed at removing the barriers to state legalization efforts.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) April 20, 2018
Iowahawk offers his NSFW response to Schumer’s sudden embrace of federalism:
with all due respect, the fuck you havehttps://t.co/6FT6tQixH6
— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) April 20, 2018
Did federalism prevail on ObamaCare, for instance? How about the rapid expansion of federal regulation in the previous administration? Does Schumer now endorse the overturning of Roe v Wade so that the issue of abortion can return to the states, too? The entire world must have missed Schumer’s opposition to Barack Obama’s Waters of the US rule change, which would have vastly expanded federal authority over state and private lands. Let’s not forget Schumer’s insistence on imposing a federal “carbon tax” to pull even more revenue from the states to Washington, plus his plea from the 2014 election cycle for Democrats to stand up for big government. That’s how we got a federal marijuana prohibition in the first place.
Let’s assume, then, that Chuck “Big Government” Schumer has something else in mind than federalism in proposing this. Sessions is likely the big cause, with members of both caucuses in the Senate chafing at his intent to enforce federal law rather than defer to state actions. Trump pledged to back Sessions down on this issue while other like Cory Gardner grandstanded by holding up nominations. It seems that members of Congress have done everything in their power to stop Sessions except for the one action that the Constitution grants — to rewrite statutes to take it out of his hands.
At least give Schumer credit for taking the constitutionally appropriate route for change. We don’t need an Attorney General picking and choosing which laws to enforce, and we certainly don’t need the legislative branch encouraging the executive branch to ignore laws for which the legislature is responsible. Don’t want Sessions to dictate marijuana policy to the states? Change the law rather than throw tantrums and corrupt processes. Why has it taken more than a year for the geniuses on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue to realize that?
Is it a good idea, though? It’s certainly going to be a popular idea. And if it contributes to removing ideology and politics from the process of law enforcement, that’s a net positive too. Even federalism is a good reason for this change, although marijuana is hardly the most pressing violation of federalism with which we’re dealing. Pissing off Jeff Sessions is a stupid reason for any legislation, but I’d bet that Sessions might happier to see Congress do its job than he has been in having Congress try to force him into doing it for them.