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Congress Considers Formally Admitting Defeat in Cannabis Legalization Dispute

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09/22/2015

A Colorado Congresswoman has introduced legislation to exempt Colorado (and presumably other states with legalized recreational cannabis) from federal drug controls on cannabis. Diana DeGette (D-Denver) has revived legislation that is essentially identical to 2012 legislation that would "protect" legal cannabis in Colorado from future executive branch action.

The bill enjoys bipartisan support among Colorado members of Congress, although multiple Republican presidential candidates — who apparently want to lose Colorado's likely-essential 8 electoral votes in the general election — have repeatedly promised to crack down on law-abiding Coloradans. The argument among drug warriors like Chris Christie is that federal agents should be sent in to push Coloradans around because they don't respect the so-called "rule of law," which is code for "unquestioning deference to federal power."

So, the local delegation is looking to protect the state from federal meddling under the next administration.

Of course, no such legislation would exist at all if the state had not first gone ahead and voted to ignore federal law and legalize recreational cannabis. Efforts in Congress to lessen federal Drug War power is a direct consequence of state-level disobedience to acts of Congress. In other words, state-level nullification has put cannabis legalization on the table for the first time in decades in a way that would not have been possible had the locals followed the advice of the "rule of law" crowd. In reality, there is no lack of "rule of law" in Colorado. It's just the rule of Colorado law.

The first time DeGette ran the legislation, it never received a committee hearing. Since then, though, two more states have voted to nullify federal cannabis laws, so now Alaska, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado have now all taken the step.

As the movement grows, the success of such legislation will become increasingly likely. This is especially true if California finally votes to legalize, as becomes more likely with each passing election cycle. (According to some polls, 55 percent of Californians now support legalization, and a new ballot initiative is being prepared.)

As I explained here, some kinds of nullification work and some do not. Cannabis legalization, however, has worked quite well, and has shown how states can ignore federal edicts as part of a strategy to eventually change (or render unenforcable) federal law itself. But it's important to note that in cases like these, the de facto legalization comes before the de jure legalization, at least in terms of federal law.

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for Mises Wire and The Austrian, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.

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