A new Department of Justice memorandum — directing federal prosecutors to abstain from prosecuting violations of federal laws, where prospective defendants are in open compliance with state laws permitting possession of marijuana — threatens to show the widening gap between conservative ideals, and the conservative social agenda.
After all, the Obama administration’s new policy of abstention, as part of Justice’s responsibility to set priorities in law enforcement, is a model of federalism: while the federal government can retain an interest in the spillover effects of the drug trade, where there’s no evidence of spillover effects and thus no real federal issue, basic principles of “states’ rights” dictate that the federal government should leave well enough alone. It’s what Republicans like Pawlenty have been demanding in the health care debate, all along.
Apparently, though, the same principle doesn’t apply to the drug trade, according to at least some Congressmen (Lamar Smith, R-TX):
The Administration’s new guidelines directing federal prosecutors to ignore local medical marijuana dispensaries that allegedly operate in compliance with state laws fly in the face of Supreme Court precedent and undermine federal laws that prohibit the distribution and use of marijuana.
Setting aside Rep. Lamar’s obvious confusion between permissive and mandatory federal action — the government can, pursuant to Raich, regulate medical marijuana, but it need not — Republicans and serious conservatives should ask themselves why that is. If Republicans are to abandon even the appearance of advocating for limited government, they risk becoming a party defined entirely by social issues. And that’s not a winning agenda.