News organizations and state government proclaimed last week that marijuana is now legal in Connecticut. But it’s not really.
Pressed about the issue, the U.S. attorney’s office for Connecticut quickly confirmed that while Connecticut and other states have repealed their criminal laws on marijuana, possession and sale of the drug remain violations of federal law. The marijuana business is going into the open in many states only because for some years now the federal government, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, has decided not to enforce the federal law.
As U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has told Congress: “I do not think it the best use of the Justice Department’s limited resources to pursue prosecutions of those who are complying with the laws in states that have legalized and are effectively regulating marijuana.”
Of course there is always much discretion in law enforcement, like the patrol officer who issues an oral warning instead of a ticket to a speeding motorist, or the Justice Department that raids the home of a former Republican president in pursuit of classified documents but not the office of a former Democratic vice president who also took classified documents with him when his term expired.
But discretion in a particular case is nothing compared to a decision to suspend entirely the enforcement of a law. There is no authority for that, since the Constitution requires that the president, the head of the federal executive department, “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” The Constitution does not say that the president shall choose which laws to enforce.
That is totalitarianism — the end of law.
Attorney General Garland’s rationale for not enforcing federal marijuana law in states that are facilitating the marijuana business — the Justice Department’s “limited resources” — is even weaker.
For to close the state-sanctioned marijuana business, the department would need only to make an arrest at a single marijuana retailer in each state that is sanctioning the business. The industry would fold up within hours. Indeed, it would not have sprung up at all without confidence in federal indifference.
This doesn’t mean that marijuana should remain criminalized. While it can be addictive and cause harm, it is mild as illegal drugs go and can have medical uses. Decades of criminalization probably have caused more problems than they have prevented. The bigger problem now is respect for law.
States should be simply repealing their criminal laws on marijuana, leaving enforcement to the federal government. States should not be facilitating sale of the drug, which is essentially nullification of federal law — just what Connecticut and some other states have been doing with illegal immigration, obstructing federal immigration agents and giving state identification documents to illegal immigrants to facilitate their lawbreaking.
Meanwhile Congress should take marijuana out of federal criminal law and strengthen pursuit of more dangerous drugs, especially fentanyl.
The present circumstances with marijuana — legal and illegal at the same time in the same place — invite contempt for law and government.
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According to the Connecticut Mirror, the idea of U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District, to relocate the Hartford area’s highways and put miles of them in tunnels at the cost of maybe $17 billion and decades of construction work is starting to be taken seriously by state transportation officials.
It shouldn’t be. For while it might be nice for the Hartford bank of the Connecticut River to be covered with parks and condominiums instead of highways, getting around the Hartford area is easy enough and is getting easier as rush-hour commuting for office work is replaced by telecommuting.
Meanwhile Connecticut’s public health system has big gaps; its cities remain sunk in generational poverty; its electricity, railroad, and sanitation systems are creaky; its schools are failing; and its government employee retirement system is underfunded — all amid high inflation caused by too much government spending.
None of those things will be visible from an interstate highway tunnel but they will still be there. First things first.
Chris Powell (CPowell@JournalInquirer.com) is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.