Newt Gingrich on Marijuana and the Founding Fathers

Newt Gingrich recently claimed that Founding Fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson “would have rather strongly discouraged you from growing marijuana and their techniques with dealing with it would have been rather more violent than our current government.” As Jacob Sullum points out, this ignores the fact that Washington and Jefferson themselves grew hemp on their plantations, and that marijuana use was neither illegal nor socially stigmatized in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Perhaps more importantly, few if any of the Founders would have thought that the federal government had the constitutional authority to ban marijuana growing. As I discuss in this article, as late as the early twentieth century, advocates of Prohibition had to enact a constitutional amendment to forbid the sale of alcoholic beverages, because the dominant view at the time held that Congress did not already have the power to do this. If they are serious about enforcing constitutional limits on federal power, Gingrich and other conservatives cannot continue to ignore the ways in which the War on Drugs has severely undermined those limits, most notably in Gonzales v. Raich, the Supreme Court’s most expansive interpretation of federal authority so far.