Federal government’s biggest marijuana concern is…workplace use?

On November 6, Colorado and Washington State legalized the use of pot, becoming the first U.S. states to do so. Twenty days later, conservative comedian Steven Crowder launched a video outlining his opposition to marijuana legalization. And now, via FireDogLake, the Department of Transportation (DoT) is making sure the public knows it won’t tolerate workplace use:

We have had several inquiries about whether these state initiatives will have an impact upon the Department of Transportation’s longstanding regulation about the use of marijuana by safety‐sensitive transportation employees – pilots, school bus drivers, truck drivers, train engineers, subway operators, aircraft maintenance personnel, transit fire‐armed security personnel, ship captains, and pipeline emergency response personnel, among others.

We want to make it perfectly clear that the state initiatives will have no bearing on the Department of Transportation’s regulated drug testing program. The Department of Transportation’s Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulation – 49 CFR Part 40 – does not authorize the use of Schedule I drugs, including marijuana, for any reason.

Therefore, Medical Review Officers (MROs) will not verify a drug test as negative based upon learning that the employee used “recreational marijuana” when states have passed “recreational marijuana” initiatives.

According to the much-ballyhooed new CBS poll, the American people are evenly split between Colorado and Crowder – 47% in favor of legalization, and 47% against. As the linked CBS article points out, though, legalization is increasingly more supported in the younger generation:

According to exit polls, legalizing marijuana passed in Colorado and Washington with the support of a majority of younger voters under the age of 45. Nationwide, this pattern continues: a majority of Americans under the age of 45 support legalizing marijuana, while more older Americans – particularly those over 65 – oppose it.

Regardless of their view of legalization, however, a majority of Americans also don’t want the federal government involved in enforcing marijuana laws, including 49 percent of those opposed to marijuana legalization. Though as Ed noted in commenting on the poll, many Americans do want regulations if marijuana is to be made legal.

While national opinion is headed in the right direction, it is long past time for marijuana to be a state issue, and for states to at least consider legalization. As National Review articulately outlined in 2011, the War on Drugs is an abject failure, and as Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker pointed out this summer, it’s a failure that greatly impacts black Americans in particular. Booker also described a number of areas where improvements in public policy could help those addicted to drugs.

Typically, it is social conservatives who oppose legalization. However, I believe there is a case to be made for social conservatives to support marijuana legalization, or at least state control. As I argued at Hot Air this summer, this case consists of three basic arguments:

First, there are over three million Americans in jails and prisons nationwide, many arrested or jailed for non-violent marijuana use. Prohibition didn’t work for prohibition; why would we expect it to work with marijuana laws? It is inefficient to deny individual liberty by punishing those who use marijuana in the same way most people use alcohol: infrequently and responsibly. In other words, arresting responsible pot users shrinks the economic pie and increases the cost and size of government.

Related, while estimates are varied, billions in law enforcement and other costs could be saved through legalization. In a time of budget crisis at the federal level, this is important.

Lastly, according to a Catholic Theology on Tap speaker who works with inmates and recent inmates, 60% of future inmates are the children of current inmates. As the speaker said, we know who the next generation of prisoners is – the kids of today’s prisoners. If social conservatives want better public policy to keep families intact and have more people gainfully employed, they should support marijuana legalization, or at least state control of marijuana policy.

I am no medical professional, and Crowder’s video includes an interview with a doctor who described negative effects of marijuana on the human brain. However, I don’t think protecting people from themselves is something conservatives should support – otherwise, we are like one of Crowder’s foolish interviewees, who didn’t realize the inconsistency between wanting to ban big drinks in New York City and legalize marijuana.

So far, according to FireDogLake, the federal government has not really stepped up in reacting to the legalization of pot in Washington and Oregon, outside of the DoT and other agencies clarifying policies, etc. This is the way it should be; after all, Americans wouldn’t want a public employee drunk on the job, so of course we shouldn’t want someone high on the job. But other than that and selling on the streets and to children, we really ought to leave such policies up to the states, and support the rights of citizens to make their own decisions.

Dustin Siggins is the principal blogger for the Tea Party Patriots, a national grassroots coalition with more than 3,500 local chapters. He is also a co-founder of LibertyUnyielding.com, and the author of a forthcoming book on the national debt. The opinions expressed are his own.