Pubdate: Wed, 24 Aug 2016
Source: Kansas City Star (MO)
Copyright: 2016 The Kansas City Star
Author: Dave Helling


Last week a group of Missouri prosecutors announced it had taken 
legal steps to block voter consideration of a medical marijuana 
proposition on the November ballot.

In a news release, the group said it opposes the measure because pot 
is illegal under federal law. "Missouri law cannot usurp federal 
law," the prosecutors claim.

That doesn't seem to have been a problem in Colorado, where 
recreational marijuana is sold, but let's leave that aside for the 
moment. Instead, let's focus on the prosecutors' central argument: 
state law, they say, must give way to federal law whenever there's a conflict.

Most Americans assume the Civil War settled the concept of federal 
legal supremacy. Once a state becomes part of the Union, the theory 
goes, it must back off when its laws conflict with the nation's.

In fact, though, some Democrats and Republicans have argued for 
decades that states can pre-empt federal laws that contradict state policy.

The argument was common among southern Democrats who resisted 
national intervention in civil rights and school integration in the 
1960s and 1970s. More recently, many Republicans have insisted the 
states are "laboratories of democracy," able to enact legislation 
that contravenes Washington.

In 2013 Republicans in Kansas passed a statute saying federal laws 
and rules that violate the Second Amendment are "null, void and 
unenforceable" in the state. Last year a Missouri lawmaker proposed a 
similar measure.

The prosecutors now tell us this is poppycock, which is good to know.

Indeed, there may be signs even conservative Republicans now 
understand national supremacy. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, for 
example, is a states-rights guy - he co-sponsored the 10th Amendment 
Act, which would have allowed states to challenge federal regulations 
they felt intruded on their rights.

Yet Roberts quickly abandoned states' rights this year after Vermont 
decided to impose strict labeling requirements for genetically 
modified food. Roberts insisted state-by-state food labels would 
bring disaster, so he pushed through a one-size-fits-all national 
food labeling law.

"Our marketplace - both consumers and producers - needs a national 
biotechnology standard to avoid chaos in interstate commerce," 
Roberts said in June.

Apparently Vermont is not a laboratory of democracy.

The tension between the rights of states and Washington is not just 
an academic exercise. Voter rights, education, health insurance, gun 
rights, even civil rights remain subjects of disagreement between the 
national government and the states.

It isn't clear if the Missouri marijuana initiative will make it to 
the ballot. Some petition signatures were thrown out, a decision 
supporters of the measure are now challenging in court.

But if it goes on the ballot, the prosecutors say the voters' 
decision is irrelevant. Washington, they say, must win anytime its 
laws disagree with a state's.

That makes their legal challenge important - more important, 
ultimately, than who can or can't smoke pot.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom