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Sessions' marijuana crackdown is 'a dangerous step backwards'

  • US Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week reasserted the Federal government's prohibition on marijuana, overriding states' rights.
  • That is in direct defiance of the Constitution. Our founding fathers never intended for the federal government to act as a central authority, dictating every policy set in the United States.
  • It should not be in the hands of the federal government to strike down a successful legalization effort that has broad support in a state.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions
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Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Upon taking office, Attorney General Jeff Sessions swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. As the federal government's lawyer, I would hope he would be familiar with the document, but apparently there is a passage he missed or chooses to ignore:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

So reads the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution - a clear directive from our nation's founders that the states, not the federal government, have the authority to make their own policy decisions in all areas, except those listed in Article 1, Section 8.

Our founding fathers never intended for the federal government to act as a central authority, dictating every policy set in the United States. Even the very word they chose - "federal" - means decentralized. They gave us a Constitution designed to protect the states and the people from Washington DC overreach, and made every federal politician swear an oath to uphold it.

"The federal government should not be interfering when states' economic growth comes from a substance that is only legal for adults, and poses very little danger to one's health compared to other legal substances like alcohol."

That's why, for constitutional conservatives who believe in limited government, Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recent move to override the states and reassert the federal government's prohibition on cannabis is a dangerous step backward, putting more unconstitutional power in the hands of the federal government.

States across the country have legalized cannabis, both for medicinal and adult use purposes. Within these states, different laws and regulations are put into place to fit with the state's needs.

In Maine, where we legalized medical cannabis in 1999 and adult use cannabis in 2016, individual municipalities are given the opportunity to put moratoriums on cannabis businesses into place if they wish. We are still working on fine-tuning the laws governing adult use cannabis, and the Health and Human Services committee still regularly works on policy proposals to make changes to the medical cannabis law.

That is the way it should be. When individual states - and municipalities - are given the opportunity to shape laws, they can better meet the needs of the people affected by the law.

States that have fully implemented legalization have experienced economic benefits. Colorado has seen $600 million in tax revenue in the years since its adult use cannabis law has gone into effect. They have used the money to fund rural school improvement and addiction treatment programs for the truly dangerous drugs. In just one month, Nevada saw nearly $4 million in tax revenue from cannabis sales. Revenue in Nevada is put toward education and the state's rainy day fund.

The federal government should not be interfering when states' economic growth comes from a substance that is only legal for adults, and poses very little danger to one's health compared to other legal substances like alcohol.

Selling cannabis legally and legitimately is benefitting the people of Colorado and Nevada - and the cartels and drug dealers who sold it on the black market are losing out.

Should Colorado, Nevada or any other state start to see negative effects from a marijuana law and have broad support for a repeal of legalization, they can undertake that effort through the democratic process. It should not be in the hands of the federal government to strike down a successful legalization effort that has broad support in a state.

According to a 2017 Gallup poll, 64 percent of Americans support legalizing cannabis for adult use, including a majority of Republicans. And a poll conducted by Marist indicates that 83 percent of Americans support legalizing cannabis for medical purposes.

When Mr. Sessions announced his decision to rescind the non-interference policy on cannabis, Republicans and Democrats alike expressed their disappointment. Not because all of them are staunch supporters of cannabis use, but because this decision is a clear unconstitutional overreach by the federal government.

Our founders would reject in the boldest terms Mr. Sessions' unconstitutional agenda. We the people should as well.

We should be giving decision-making power back to the states and back to the people. The United States was not created to give power to a bloated, bureaucratic federal government that has supreme power over states and individuals. America deserves better.

Commentary by Eric Brakey, a candidate for U.S. Senate in the State of Maine. He currently represents Maine's 20th Senate District in Maine State Senate, where he serves as the Senate Chairman for the Committee on Health and Human Services. When Eric Brakey was first elected to the Maine Senate in 2014 at the age of 26, he was the youngest State Senator in the nation. Folllow him on Twitter @SenatorBrakey.

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