HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Making The Case To Legalize Drugs In Washington State
Pubdate: Thu, 24 Feb 2005
Source: Stranger, The (Seattle, WA)
Copyright: 2005 The Stranger
Author: Josh Feit
Cited: King County Bar Association ( )
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Making the Case to Legalize Drugs in Washington State

"States' rights" has always been anathema to liberals--a code word for the 
Southern racism that embraced slavery, and later segregation. Nowadays, 
however, in an era when Red America controls the federal government and 
pushes things like a national ban on gay marriage, progressives are 
embracing states' rights: the founding fathers' idea of Federalism, in 
which states cede a few key powers to D.C. while maintaining robust 
sovereignty themselves.

So, what's the latest group to make the case that states' rights should 
determine policy? Try the flaming liberals at the King County Bar 
Association (KCBA), who on March 3 will release a radical proposal urging 
Olympia to reform local drug laws. And by "reform," the KCBA means make 
certain drugs legal so they can be yanked off the street (a hotbed of 
violent crime and addiction) and placed in a tightly regulated state 
market. Regulation could allow for things like safe injection sites, be 
used to wean addicts off drugs, and sap a black market that gives kids 
access to drugs.

The mammoth proposal ( includes 
extensive academic research on the history of drug laws, conspiratorial 
details about the successful efforts of corporations like DuPont and Hearst 
to squelch hemp production in the 1930s, and dispiriting facts about the 
failed drug war--is anchored by a 16-page treatise titled "States' Rights: 
Toward a Federalist Drug Policy."

This states' rights manifesto is the KCBA's rejoinder to the inevitable 
question: How can Washington State get away with regulating (i.e., 
legalizing) drugs, like heroin and pot, that the federal government has 
outlawed under the Controlled Substances Act? It's also a direct challenge 
to the feds.

"[If our proposals are adopted] we would expect that the U.S. government 
would seek an injunction in federal court," Roger Goodman, director of the 
Drug Policy Project of the KCBA, says enthusiastically. Goodman's idea is 
to force a legal standoff that, he hopes, will eventually set the precedent 
for states to buck the feds' misguided "war on drugs" by giving states 
control over the production and distribution of drugs like pot.

The Constitution grants the federal government the right to regulate 
commerce, which is the cornerstone of the Controlled Substances Act. The 
KCBA report, which Goodman put together, outlines a couple of states' 
rights arguments that could be used to trump that authority. The report 
points out accurately that states have exclusive rights to protect the 
health, welfare, and safety of their citizens, which includes regulating 
the practice of medicine. "Recent case law has limited federal authority to 
meddle in the states' regulation of medical practice," the report says, 
"particularly limiting the use of the federal Controlled Substances Act to 
override a state's decisions." This is a reference to a 2002 decision in 
Oregon v. Ashcroft when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stopped the feds 
from using drug law to upend Oregon's Death with Dignity Act where drugs 
are used in assisted suicide.

The KCBA also argues that when a state becomes a "market participant" by 
running drug-distribution outlets, the activity would be beyond the scope 
of federal commerce power. "[C]annabis availability for adults through 
exclusive state-owned outlets, for instance, would render Washington immune 
to federal intervention " the KCBA's states' rights manifesto argues.

Obviously, these legal arguments are just that: arguments. The KCBA readily 
admits as much. "Whether Washington could now promulgate its own regulatory 
system  of substances that are currently prohibited under federal law is a 
critical open question," the report allows. However, raising that question 
is an important first step in itself. According to Goodman: "That's always 
part of the reform process."
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