New York Times Discovers States' Rights for Marijuana Laws

By:  Jack Kenny
New York Times Discovers States' Rights for Marijuana Laws

The editorial board of the New York Times, which generally favors the imposition of "liberal" or "progressive" reforms at the national level, has come out in favor of states' rights on the legalization of marijuana.

Under the headline "Repeal Prohibition, Again," published online Saturday and again in its Sunday paper, the Times called for amending the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970, where "Marihuana" was included in Schedule I of the banned substances, along with heroin, LSD, and other dangerous drugs. 

"The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana," said the editorial board in the introduction to a five-part editorial dealing with various aspects of marijuana legalization. "There are no perfect answers to people's legitimate concerns about marijuana use," the Times conceded. "But neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol, and we believe that on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.

In an accompanying article, entitled "Let the States Decide," David Firestone, one of the 18 members of the Times editorial board, concedes that marijuana consumption "is not a fundamental right that should be imposed on the states by the federal government" — in contrast to "rights" the Times believes should be imposed on the states: "abortion rights, health insurance, or the freedom to marry a partner of either sex." Legalizing marijuana is "a choice that states should be allowed to make based on their culture and their values," Firestone writes, "and it's not surprising that the early adopters would be socially liberal states like Colorado and Washington, while others hang back to gauge the results."

Indeed, that is the way our federal system is supposed to work on matters in which no powers have been delegated to the federal government by the Constitution. The same Constitution recognizes our "fundamental rights" in the Bill of Rights. The Ninth Amendment assures us that the Constitution does not "deny or disparage" other rights "retained by the people." But neither does it confer a federal power to impose upon the states and the people abortion "rights," a federal health insurance system, or a redefinition of marriage — all of which has come into conflict with the "culture and values" of people in their respective states. As James Madison noted in Federalist, No. 45: "The powers granted by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite." Under the Constitution's division of powers, wrote Justice Louis Brandeis, "a state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country." 

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