Jacob Sullum

Proposition 19's will lead to "a regulatory nightmare." The Sacramento Bee, like several other newspapers, sees the "mishmash of rules" that will result from allowing local governments to regulate marijuana sales as intolerable, declaring, "The laws governing marijuana should be uniform across the state, as they are for alcohol." Except that they're not, as anyone who has tried to buy beer after midnight on the wrong side of La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles County could tell you. Other states allow even more variation, letting counties, cities and parts of cities vote themselves dry.

Proposition 19 is unconstitutional. Nine former heads of the Drug Enforcement Administration claim the initiative conflicts with the federal Controlled Substances Act and therefore violates the Supremacy Clause, which says "this Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof ... shall be the supreme law of the land."

The Supreme Court has upheld national marijuana prohibition, even as applied to purely intrastate cultivation and possession of the drug, through an absurdly broad reading of the federal government's authority to "regulate commerce ... among the several states." But it has never held that the Constitution requires states to impose their own penalties for crimes created by Congress.

Assuming Californians approve Proposition 19, which is ahead by 11 percentage points in the latest poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, the feds will not have the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition throughout the state on their own. That's a good thing, since the freedom to experiment with different policies is one of federalism's main virtues. If the nightmare scenarios described by Proposition 19's opponents come to pass, the rest of the country will learn from California's example. And if they don't, that also will be instructive, which is why federal drug warriors are so determined to defeat the initiative.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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