Support for the decriminalization of marijuana, whether for medicinal or recreational use, is on the rise as state after state votes to lower (if not eliminate) restrictions on cannabis possession and use. The federal government’s response, particularly under the Obama Administration, has been to step up enforcement efforts. And what is the GOP response? Falling in line behind the Administration. Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson was excluded from the GOP primary debates and when vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan had the temerity to suggest states should be allowed to set their own pot policies, he was quickly muzzled by the Romney campaign. Justices O’Connor, Rehnquist, and Thomas were willing to question federal authority over local drug possession, but conservative politicians have, as a general rule, failed to follow suit.
The GOP’s dominant approach to marijuana legalization is both bad policy and bad politics. As Betsy Woodruff writes on NRO:
If the GOP is going to be competitive in 2016, it has to communicate to young people that intrusive federal government makes their lives worse. It has to communicate that it’s the party that respects personal choice and individual responsibility. And it would probably help to communicate that when in doubt, the GOP doesn’t automatically take the side of the insanely expensive branch of the federal government that breaks into people’s homes, shoots their dogs, and imprisons them because they added a funny ingredient to their brownies.
Instead, as I’ve noted before, this issue is also an opportunity for Republicans to demonstrate a commitment to conservative principle and abandon its fair weather federalism. Alas, I’m not holding my breath.