In the latter part of its history, the Republican Party has taken up the mantle of states’ rights. Or so the GOP would like us to believe. The truth is that most of the conservative politicians of the Republican Party are no more consistent in favoring states’ rights than they are in favoring small government. During the Bush Administration, the conservative stance seemed to be that states’ rights were the ideal–unless Massachusetts wanted marriage equality, Oregon wanted to allow patients, if they so chose, to end their lives with the assistance of physicians, California wanted medical marijuana, Michigan wanted a strong college affirmative action program, or pretty much anything else the conservative Republicans running the government disapproved of. This conservative disconnect between rhetoric and action was showcased recently when the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would prevent the federal government from interfering with medical marijuana in states that repeal their bans on medical marijuana. Only 49 Republican Representatives, out of the 221 Republicans who voted, supported the bill. So, potshots at political parties aside, is the result of the House vote cause for celebration? To be sure, the vote is a step in the right direction. Bans on medical marijuana are unjustified intrusions by the government into the lives of citizens. However, this proposed bill is attempting to put a band-aid on a massive gash. The bigger question, which this legislation will not address, is whether it is the government’s business if an adult wishes to consume narcotics. The legislation only applies to marijuana consumed, ostensibly anyway, for medical purposes. It will not change the fact that citizens risk being thrown into prison for using marijuana recreationally or selling it to other adults for recreational purposes. It will not change the fact that this country is embroiled in a costly, authoritarian drug war. To be clear, I think using marijuana recreationally is a bad idea. But it does not directly impact me if my neighbor chooses to smoke pot, which means that it is not the business of the government if that is what they choose to do. I know there are people who are appalled by my consumption of soda, but that does not mean they have a right to ban it. Neither does my opposition to marijuana use give me the right to force other adults to stop consuming it. Many problems in this country could be ameliorated if more Americans were willing to let other people live their lives as they desire, so long as their actions are not directly harming children or other un-consenting parties, rather than trying to use the government to control their behavior.
I would also be remiss if I did not point out that legalizing medical marijuana while continuing to ban marijuana use for recreational purposes is basically an invitation for some doctors to “cook the books.” People who want to smoke pot are likely to just find a doctor willing to write them a prescription on some pretext. This is undesirable, but it is a natural result of banning a drug for recreational purposes while allowing it as a form of medicine.
America is becoming, on the whole, more libertarian. Support for the legality of both gay marriage and handgun ownership is at an all-time high. And since Gallup polls show 55% of Americans supporting gay marriage and 76% supporting allowing people to own handguns, apparently a decent-sized minority of Americans–gasp, shock–support both. From 1960 to 2013, the percentage of Americans trusting the government dropped from 73% to 19%. Maybe if both parties focused a little more on individual rights and a little less on protecting the power of government, their ability to win elections might not hinge on the possibility that voters will dislike the other party more.