Does the Justice Department bow to "states' rights" on the question of marijuana? I guess it depends on which the day of the week you ask.
Months ago, Attorney General Eric Holder said that the Department would not enforce the federal Controlled Substances Act against California's (or other states') "medical" marijuana provisions, deferring instead to the individual state's judgment about when marijuana should be available to its citizens.
Yesterday it was a different story. The AP reports:
SAN FRANCISCO -- The U.S. government will "vigorously enforce" federal laws against marijuana even if voters next month make California the first state to legalize pot, Attorney General Eric Holder says.
Holder's warning, contained in a letter to ex-federal drug enforcement chiefs, was his most direct statement yet against Proposition 19, and it sets up another showdown with California over marijuana if the measure passes.
With Prop 19 leading in the polls, the letter also raised questions about the extent to which federal drug agents would go into communities across the state to catch small-time users and dealers, or whether they even had the resources to do it.
Of course it's already the case that federal drug agents generally do not go after small-time users and dealers. What's changed is that Holder, who was ready to kiss goodbye to federal law in this area only a short time ago, now says he'll enforce it. If the supposed difference is the distinction between "medical" marijuana and "recreational" marijuana (a distinction that as a practical matter barely exists), Holder needs to re-check his premises. Under the CSA, smoked marijuana is a Schedule I substance, meaning that, under federal law, it has no recognized medical value.
If the Attorney General wants to defer to some muscular version of states' rights we haven't seen since Jim Crow laws, at least he should be consistent. Well, forget that. Why would we expect consistency from the man who wants to apply the Miranda rule to captured terrorists, except when he doesn't want to apply it?