When eager audience members attend a performance of the popular Broadway musical “Hamilton,” they watch a play inspired by the life of one of the founders of American federalism. What’s not in the script, however, is the extent to which that federalist system, established so many years ago, still plays a role in American politics today.
Federalism is the balance of power between the national government and state authority. This careful balance is necessary in avoiding a breach of liberties while at the same time maintaining a strong central government, a practice enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. However, it is not always clear which entity within our system should hold jurisdiction over a given subject.
Such is the case with legalization of marijuana. The drug is defined under the national Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I drug – illegal in all states for recreational and medical use. Over the past few years, opposition to this classification has manifested in the form of statewide movements toward complete legalization.
Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska have passed laws permitting recreational use of marijuana; others, including California, continue on a similar path. This conflict essentially begs the question of which level of government should have the power to decide the issue. Placing marijuana legalization under the control of individual states is the most appropriate course, both on a constitutional basis and a practical level.
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The Constitution contains the values on which the United States was founded and continues to be one of the foremost vehicles by which authorities assess governmental actions. In the case of marijuana, the Constitution does not condone federal interference with the drug’s legal status. The founding document’s Commerce Clause, often used as justification for encroachment of federal authority, asserts Congress has the power “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States.” This clause was the basis for the Supreme Court’s ruling that the federal government can prohibit marijuana in the 2005 case Gonzales v. Raich.
However, Justice Clarence Thomas argues in his dissent that“the (Controlled Substances Act) exceeds Congress’ commerce power.” The federal government should only exert such power when dealing with either foreign or domestic issues that transcend the boundaries of just one state. The use of marijuana within a state does not constitute interstate commerce and therefore should not be regulated as such.
This misuse of the Commerce Clause is an example of what the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in United States v. Morrison.
Similar to the Commerce Clause, people often attribute these extended implications of federal power to the Constitution’s Necessary and Proper clause, which finds that Congress is able to “make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying” out its duties. This argument is not appropriate to regulation of marijuana. Although part of what lends vitality to the Constitution is its adaptability, there are limits to possible interpretations.
The country has evolved significantly since the time of these documents, and applying the Constitution’s core ideas to the concerns of the modern world requires some liberties be taken in evaluating what constitutes “necessary and proper.” But these looser interpretations are only valid when the views of the vast majority have shifted on an issue that affects the overall society, such as civil rights or climate change.
Legislation protecting minorities or efforts to preserve the environment were not serious concerns in the 18th century, but they are surely important today; laws addressing these paramount issues should be considered “necessary,” and indeed have rightfully invoked the clause. In contrast, the regulation of marijuana is very different. It deals with individual liberties rather than basic human rights.
The 10th Amendment, which declares “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,” is a crucial element of this assertion. Granting states the right to decide on marijuana’s legal status fits within this philosophy.
Leaving this matter in the hands of the overarching national government creates a resource issue. When discussing Washington’s lack of response to recent state laws legalizing a nationally unlawful drug, Stanislaus County Deputy District Attorney Jeff Darnell said “the federal government … simply does not have the resources to prosecute all of those cases.”
A law has no real use if the executive lacks the resources to enforce it.
The fact that multiple states have actively disregarded the federal ban on marijuana is a clear indicator that this should be a state’s issue. These laws were introduced through bottom-up initiatives; they were natural occurrences that manifested as a result of a widespread movement by the people.
Granting states the prerogative to regulate marijuana for recreational use finds justification in both the founding documents of our nation and in logical arguments about politics and society in the modern world. Federalism is a principle that unites the past with the present and guides important decisions in America today, including those regarding marijuana.
Just as musicals such as “Hamilton” are concerned with striking a balance between catchy lyrics and compelling melodies, the United States government aims to maintain a harmony of federal jurisdiction and state liberties. Though the system does not always operate flawlessly, this separation of powers is one aspect of our democracy that has helped fuse organization with freedom since the time of our forefathers and will continue to do so long into the future.
American Heritage scholarship program
The Stanislaus County Office of Education, Modesto City Schools and The Modesto Bee have sponsored the American Heritage Scholarship Program since 2002. Each year, more than $10,000 in scholarships are awarded to students who compete by writing an essay. This year’s winners included:
- Rachel Brown, Whitmore Charter
- Jose Carranza, Johansen
- Ashley Chan, Gregori
- Gabriela Chavez, Central Valley
- Emily Doxey, Gregori
- Jessica Doxey, Gregori
- Madelyn Doxey, Gregori
- Denae Fargo, Johansen
- Abigail Fletcher, Whitmore Charter
- Hannah Hernandez, Gregori
- Anne Homer, Oakdale
- Taryn Lane, Oakdale
- Savannah Larsen, Oakdale
- Azriel Montalvo, Whitmore Charter
- Anna Rohrer, Whitmore Charter
- Jenna Tobin, Gregori
- Annalise VanderVeen, Oakdale
- Elizabeth White, Oakdale
- Daniyel Wiggins, Whitmore Charter
This year was the 16th year of the American Heritage Scholarship Program is a partnership between The Modesto Bee, Stanislaus County Office of Education, and Modesto City Schools, which includes a public lecture and an essay competition for Stanislaus County High School juniors and seniors. Students from public, private, and charter schools were encouraged to apply.
Above are the top three scholarship award winners (left to right): Timea Friesen of Waterford High School ($1,500), Hannah Young of Gregori High School ($2,000), and Kaitlynn Tran of Gregori High School ($1,500)
362 students from 13 high schools entered the American Heritage Essay competition this year. 19 student essays were selected to receive scholarships by a panel of judges that consisted of educators, community members, and Superior Court Judges.
|$2,000||Young, Hannah||Gregori High School|
|$1,500||Friesen, Timea||Waterford High School|
|$1,500||Tran, Kaitlynn||Gregori High School|
|$1,000||Fahlen, Carmen||Gregori High School|
|$1,000||Pabalan, Russell||Oakdale High School|
|$500||Hijaouy, Zakaria||Gregori High School|
|$500||Jara, Garrett||Gregori High School|
|$500||Oliveira, Tyler||Gregori High School|
|$500||Spani, Shawn||Oakdale High School|
|$100||Bowman, Corina||Gregori High School|
|$100||Chhaly, Tristan||Gregori High School|
|$100||Glodek, Juliana||Gregori High School|
|$100||Hopkins, Joshua||Gregori High School|
|$100||Jensen, Alexander||Gregori High School|
|$100||Meyer, Micaela||Gregori High School|
|$100||Rohrer, Anna||Whitmore Charter High School|
|$100||Swanberg, Joy||Gregori High School|
|$100||Swartz, Katherine||Gregori High School|
|$100||Tan, Aron Christopher Lee||Gregori High School|
2017 Essay Prompt
Is the death penalty constitutional? The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from inflicting “cruel and unusual punishments.” Many believe depriving someone of his or her life is “cruel,” “unusual,” and immoral, and therefore unconstitutional. Others feel some crimes—treason, murder with special circumstances, killing members of law enforcement, etc.—require the ultimate punishment. Take a position and defend your point of view using logical argument and citations to relevant historical, social, and legal sources.
Guest Speaker Presentation
Aaron Pennekamp is an associate in the San Francisco office of Munger, Tolles & Olson.
Mr. Pennekamp earned his law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center, where he served as the editor in chief of The Georgetown Law Journal. He received his undergraduate degree in international politics from Georgetown University, where he graduated magna cum laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. While attending law school, Mr. Pennekamp also served in the Virginia Army National Guard. He deployed to Iraq in 2010 as an infantry rifle platoon leader. Mr. Pennekamp joined the firm after clerkships with Justice Stephen G. Breyer of the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge John D. Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
Click here to view (Courtesy of Downey High School):https://youtue/.bN0Ms7wPw0hY
This program is entirely funded by generous community members, businesses, and organizations. (Interested donors may reach out all throughout the yerar to SCOE at 238-1701 to support this program) Funding for 2017 Scholarships were received from:
Bank of Stockton
Ramon and Barbara Bawanan
E. & J. Gallo Winery
Tom & Dianne Changnon
James & Carol Enochs
Curtis & Nancy Grant
Robert Hampton & Teresa Alley
Kiwanis Club of Greater Turlock
Law Offices of Frank M. Lima
Modesto Irrigation District
Mocse Credit Union
Modesto Lion’s Club
Modesto Sunset Lion’s Club
Aaron Pennekamp, Associate Attorney
Martin & Sharon Peterson
Fred & Susan Rich
Col. & Mrs. John S. Rogers, ASAF (RET.)
James & Peggy Shiovitz
Turlock Irrigation District
Doug and Brenda Ulrich