It’s Time to End the Federal Government’s Failed War on Drugs and Return the Regulation of Drugs to the States

Like the prohibition of alcohol during the Roaring 1920s, the War on Drugs has caused an explosion in crime, violence, gang warfare, incarceration for nonviolent behavior, civil disobedience and the loss of our civil liberties and Constitutional rights.  Since the 1970s, the government has spent over one trillion dollars fighting a “war” against drugs even though millions of Americans choose to use drugs just like millions choose to imbibe alcohol.  After a decade of failure, the federal government’s prohibition of alcohol was undone by ratification of 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which returned the regulation of alcohol to the states.

As a result of the 21st Amendment, each state was once again free to exercise whatever level of regulation of alcohol its residents decided was in their best interest.  This comported with the system of government created by our Founding Fathers in which the states set up the federal government and gave it only limited, enumerated powers, and reserved for themselves all other powers including general police powers.  Our Founding Fathers intended for the states to be “laboratories of democracy,” with each state experimenting with various levels of regulation that achieve the right balance between individual liberty and “health, welfare and safety.”

Although this adherence to the Constitution and the doctrine of federalism has served our country well regarding alcohol since the ratification of the 21st Amendment, our country has not shown the same adherence to the Constitution concerning drugs.  Since the 1930s, the federal government assumed authority it does not have under the Constitution to regulate, control and prohibit “recreational” drugs.  In the early 1970s President Richard Nixon declared “War on Drugs” and dramatically increased the role of the federal government in drug control.  Several decades later it is obvious this War on Drugs has been a failure as millions of Americans continue to use drugs and as drugs can found everywhere in America.

As the federal government has been ratcheting-up its failed War on Drugs, many state governments in recent years have been moderating their own drug laws, including legalizing marijuana for medical purposes and decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.  But, the experimentation by these states in different levels of regulation that best comport with the interests of their citizens, has run up against contrary federal drug law.  Because the federal government has wrongly assumed the authority to regulate drugs and refuses to give it back to the states, we now have sixteen states including Delaware, New Jersey and California that have legalized medical marijuana while it remains a crime under federal law.

Today in California, a person who lawfully uses medical marijuana under California state law is guilty of a federal crime.  Our federalist system does not work as intended when state governments and the federal government both claim the Constitutional authority to regulate the same thing and one legalizes it while the other criminalizes it.  It is time to rethink our nation’s drug policy.  The best policy is one that comports with the Constitution, incorporates the doctrine of federalism and maximizes individual liberty and freedom.  That is why I support efforts to undo the role the federal government has assumed in determining and enforcing a drug policy for all fifty states.

My policy comports with the Constitution.  Just like it does not empower the federal government to regulate alcohol, the Constitution also does not empower the federal government to regulate the sale, use or possession of drugs within the fifty states.  Pursuant to the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the power to regulate drugs is reserved to the states and to the people of the states because the power is not specifically delegated by the states through the Constitution to the federal government.  Thus, as a member of the U.S. Senate, I will vote to remove from the federal government its assumed authority to regulate drugs and return that power to the individual state governments.

Like we do now with regard to the regulation of alcohol, the people of each state should decide whether to keep their existing drug control laws, to decriminalize, legalize and provide for any other regulatory or control issue concerning drugs.  I support returning and limiting the federal government to the role set out for it in Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution, i.e. to regulate commerce involving drugs between the United States and foreign nations and to impose duties on the importation and excise taxes on the sale, use or possession of drugs.  The role of the federal government must be limited and restricted by the Constitution as intended by the Founding Fathers.

Personally, I oppose drug use and want to see less drug use among the American people.  As a father of three small children, I do not want my children to use drugs and will encourage them not to use drugs even if drugs are decriminalized or legalized.  In my profession, we deal every day with the sometimes devastating effects of drug abuse on individuals and families.  Nevertheless, as someone who is committed to the Constitution and to restoring the Constitutional Republic created by our Founding Fathers, I recognize the regulation of drugs is a power reserved to the states, and not granted to the federal government.

That is why I will work to end the federal government’s War on Drugs and return the regulation of drugs to the states where it belongs.  As the states resume primary jurisdiction over drugs and resume their traditional role of regulating for the “health, welfare and safety” of their citizens, I will continue to draw attention to the fundamental role and paramount duty of government, which is not to take care of us or keep us “safe” from ourselves – it is to secure our fundamental God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  When faced with the choice between liberty, or some government promise of “safety,” I am with Benjamin Franklin and will always choose liberty.

By: Marc A. Scaringi (R-PA) – candidate for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate

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