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Marijuana – America’s newest federalism battleground: Feds vs. states


American Federalism is, arguably, about to undergo more stress than at any time since the civil rights movement of the ‘Sixties.

Wikipedia -“Federalism is a mixed or compound mode of government combining a general government (the central or ‘federal’ government) with regional governments.”

In the U.S., that, of course, is essentially Washington D.C. and the fifty states.


[Readers , relax: This will not be an attempt at an extended political science treatise. There will be no discussion here of the US Constitution’s “enumerated”, “implied and “reserved” powers. Just a few notes on the confluence of selected current news in America.] 


First: There’s this serious new tension on feds vs. states over marijuana:

Last week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed Obama-era policy and gave prosecutors more leeway to enforce federal laws against marijuana in the states where it is legal. (Eight states have legalized the drug for recreational use; twenty nine states allow the drug to be used for medical purposes.)

A New York Times editorial, “Jeff Sessions’s Endless War on Marijuana” summed up immediate reaction of Congressional representatives from various regions:

“…the new policy is deeply unpopular. Many of its harshest critics are members of the president’s own party, who expressed outrage at the reversal of Mr. Trump’s campaign promise to leave the matter to states.”

Citing such outrage from representatives from Colorado, California and Florida, the editorial concluded that, “The new policy is also blind to the massive cultural shift toward legalization that has been happening at the state level in recent years… [the policy] has already created legal uncertainty … leavings users, growers and sellers to wonder whether their actions will be ignored or will land them behind bars…

Moving on in this new dimension of federalism tensions, there is the crunch matter of protecting vulnerable immigrants via “sanctuary”.

On January 1st, California became the first sanctuary state: The Los Angeles Times  report:  “California becomes ‘sanctuary state’ in rebuke of Trump immigration policy” ,    

“Gov. Jerry Brown signed landmark ‘sanctuary state’ legislation … vastly limiting who state and local enforcement agencies can hold, question and transfer at the request of the federal immigration authorities …

“Legal experts have said federal officials may try to block the law in court to keep it from being implemented. Some doubt such challenges would be successful, pointing to the 10th amendment and previous rulings in which courts have found the federal government can’t compel  local authorities to enforce federal laws.”

And then we come to the just-passed 2018 federal tax plan — what may prove to be the mother lode in what has been called the greatest contest between a White House and state values since  the 1960s when the federal government moved to end segregation and expand civil rights.

The New York Times reported that once again, California is at the forefront:  “In Clash Between California and Trump, It’s One America Versus Another”.  But California is by no means alone in this clash. “Democrats in High-Tax States Plot to Blunt Impact of New Tax Law” : “Governors and legislative leaders in New York, California and other states are considering legal challenges to elements of the law that they say unfairly singles out parts of the country. They are looking at ways of raising revenue that aren’t penalized by the new law. And they are considering changing their state tax codes to allow residents to take advantage of other federal tax breaks — in effect, restoring deductions the tax law scaled back.”



To be realistic, all of these federal-state tensions don’t approach the “nullification” demands of the mid-nineteenth century. But they do suggest a totally constitutional “virtual secession by issue”. In this dangerous time of a divided America, that is more than sufficient for great concern.