Rule of Law No Match For Reefer Madness
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca channels Judge Dredd:
See, Baca really, really doesn't like California's Proposition 19, which if approved by voters in November would decriminalize a substantial amount of marijuana use here. Sheriff Baca knows that, rule of law aside, there can be no ground given in the Great War On Drugs, which we will be winning any day now, really. Sheriff Baca knows that he has a protected right to arrest people for smoking vegetation. Sheriff Baca knows that his budget, his power, his prestige, his position depend on the Great War on Drugs.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said Friday his deputies’ marijuana enforcement would not change even if Proposition 19, which would legalize the drug in California, passes Nov. 2.
“Proposition 19 is not going to pass, even if it passes,” Baca said in a news conference Friday at sheriff's headquarters in Monterey Park.
Baca, whose department polices three-fourths of the county, was bolstered Friday by an announcement from the Obama administration that federal officials would continue to “vigorously enforce” marijuana laws in California, even if state voters pass the measure.
Baca said the proposition was superseded by federal law and if passed, would be found unconstitutional.
The proposition that California voters cannot constitutionally decriminalize marijuana use because of the Supremacy Clause is a curious one. Certainly there is a good argument that under current Supreme Court precedent federal laws against marijuana use survive a state's decriminalization, given that federal courts routinely say that Congress can stick its nose into just about any goddamned thing it wants. But Baca seems to be suggesting that if the federal government makes an act a crime, then it must perforce also be against state law. I'm not sure where he finds the authority for that. Perhaps we could ask a doctor with a flashlight. Or perhaps Baca simply means that his officers will enforce federal law. The feds of this administration don't seem to like that when it comes to immigration law, but they may be amenable to state enforcement of drug law. [After all, the feds cannot possibly enforce the federal prohibition on small amounts of marijuana on anything more than a you-got-struck-by-lightening level. In recent memory, the local office guidelines for which marijuana cases were big enough to be prosecuted required 500 kilos or 1000 plants.]
But we're asking too much of Baca. He's not a lawyer. He's just a guy with a badge, and a budget, seeking to keep his deputies employed.
And the rule of law is just a principle. Baca would hardly be the first person to ignore, or trample, a principle because Marijuana is Bad. Why, look at DePaul University. It's supposed to be a university, devoted to open discussion of ideas. But it refuses to recognize Students for Cannabis Policy Reform, student group devoted to debate and education about marijuana laws, because Marijuana Is Bad, End of Discussion. Now maybe DePaul would look less ridiculous if this was an organization devoted to defying marijuana laws in public. But they want to debate whether the law of the land is just. And to the administrators of DePaul, that subject is inherently harmful to students, because marijuana is unhealthy and impairs studies and frankly makes some people assholes, admit it. Of course, DePaul (as the link shows) hardly has an impressive record of commitment to freedom of expression. So maybe we shouldn't be surprised.
Frankly I'm not even a little tempted to try marijuana if Proposition 19 passes. So I'll have to find some other way to spit in the faces of the Lee Bacas and DePauls of the world.
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