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It’s Not That Complicated


I am surprised that Richard Brookhiser would support expediency over principle on the issue of medical marijuana. It isn’t that complicated. For an executive to carve out a broad section of federal criminal law as exempt from enforcement is effectively to decriminalize the parts of that law to which the exemption applies. That this might have happened in history does not mean we should countenance selective unenforcement today. Andrew Jackson refused to enforce a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Cherokee Nation, and indeed violated that ruling by having the army forcibly evict the Cherokees from Georgia. Jackson should have been impeached, but wasn’t. Does that mean President Obama should be allowed to refuse to enforce a Supreme Court ruling he doesn’t like?

The solution to the medical-marijuana issue is clear: Amend the Controlled Substances Act. Selective enforcement undercuts the rule of law. Once enforcement exemptions are applied in one area of the law, what’s to stop them from being applied in another? If the president thinks marijuana should be legalized, why can’t he just refuse to enforce federal marijuana laws altogether? Indeed, once we have applauded selective unenforcement, on what basis can we object the next time a president decides not to enforce a law? Based on whether we agree with the policy being summarily overturned? That’s the end of the rule of law.


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