It may sound strange, but just as I’ve developed a beautiful friendship with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders over the years, I’ve also become quite chummy with another progressive politician from the eastern seaboard, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer. Despite a plethora of political differences, Chuck and I have bonded over a shared love of hating Chicago pizza, embarrassingly implementing teenage slang, and scoring either a perfect 1600 or a near-perfect 950 on our SATs. Due to this close relationship, Sen. Schumer asked me to help him clear the air over some recent tweets about federalism and marijuana, tweets that he fears might cause confusion on the right and anger on the left. I want to stress that these are totally the words of the actual Sen. Charles Schumer. For real, you guys.
The greatest challenge our nation’s hard working, middle class potheads face is the tension between federal laws and state laws. Colorado, for example, legalized marijuana in 2012, but this doesn’t trump federal law, in particular the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which deems marijuana a Schedule 1 controlled substance with a high potential for abuse and no medicinal value. And while the Obama administration mercifully relaxed enforcement of such federal laws, “Buzzkill” Jeff Sessions and his merry band of narcs have not been as chill. Truth be told, they could show up in the centennial state any day now, ready to permanently harsh the mellow of Boulder’s countless God-fearing organic reefer soufflé artisans.
Of course, I pass on grass, but I still firmly believe that Washington’s pot laws do more harm than good. As my good friend Hans Fiene likes to say, “don’t smoke pot but also don’t destroy people’s lives for smoking pot.” Therefore, out of respect for everyone who’s been victimized by federal drug policy, I chose April 20 (Weed Day, for all you squares) to announce my plans to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. In defense of this position, I had this to say: “It’s time we allow states, once and for all, to have the power to decide what works best for them. I have long believed that states should function as their own laboratories of democracy. My bill is a step in the right direction aimed at removing the barriers to state legalization efforts.”
The term for states acting in this manner is known as “federalism,” and a federalist philosophy is not one normally espoused by a proud progressive like me. Conservatives who read my tweets may have been skeptical, thinking, “Wait a minute, Chuck, you don’t want states being their own laboratories of democracy when it comes to abortion or gay marriage or health care or guns or minimum wage or education or religious freedom. So what’s the deal? Why the federalist change of heart when it comes to pot?”
Likewise, some of my fellow Democrats might be thinking, “Chuck, how can we possibly continue using Washington’s power to impose our will on those red-state, redneck fundamentalist bigots if the senate minority leader advocates a system of government that requires us to leave them alone?”
But lest I sow the seeds of confusion on both sides of the political aisle, let me clear things up. Of course I don’t believe that state governments should be able to develop laws that reflect values or ideas that my constituents and I find antiquated or offensive. Of course the citizens of Indiana shouldn’t be able to pass state laws that are virtually identical to the federal one I sponsored after I’ve deemed that religious freedom stopped being cool once evangelicals wanted in on it. Of course I don’t actually believe that federalism is a good political philosophy.
But it’s a great political tool.
As President Trump’s election shows, the chief flaw of democracy is that occasionally we progressives lose temporary control of the federal government. When that happens, what concept could we possibly use to further our goal of forcing legislative uniformity on a diverse nation? You guessed it — federalism! Here’s how it works. When you know what’s best for everyone but can’t wield the federal power necessary to impose it on the nation, just follow these steps:
- Embrace federalism by insisting that this issue should be left to the states.
- Get a bunch of friendly blue states to embrace the progressive cause, thus bringing it to national attention.
- Enlist your friends in the media to produce a steady stream of propaganda meant to gain the votes of moderates.
- Win elections and regain control of the federal government.
- Renounce federalism and impose your will on the red states.
As you may recall, the ol’ federalism trick worked marvelously with gay marriage, so there’s every reason to believe that it will be just as effective with marijuana laws. After all, Republicans are perpetual suckers for states’ rights talk. Whenever we say “let Nebraskans govern Nebraska and New Yorkers govern New York,” they always agree to terms, thinking that we’re suing for peace instead of buying time to reload. Then we reload, regain power, void the contract, and beat them with executive orders and Supreme Court rulings until John Kasich starts wandering around the set of “Face the Nation,” muttering about settled law. They fall for it every time. It’s hilarious.
It’s also worth noting that this strategy is really useful if your goal is to impose your will on another issue that might not normally give you victory on election day. We Democrats, for example, have a hard time winning purple state elections when we run on gun control. So how do you regain the federal upper hand on this issue? How do you make the Alabama serfs hand over their AR-15s to their Democrat lords? Just slap a “legalize pot” referendum on your state ballot, give it your support, and maybe those chronic-loving, left-leaning youngsters will hand you the federal power necessary to accomplish what you really wanted — passing the Chainsaw Bayonet and Super Speedy Death Bullets Bill of 2019.
So let’s use federalism until it’s no longer useful. Let’s sing about the importance of states having power until we regain power in Washington. Let’s reach across the political aisle and make a truce with our conservative brothers and sisters throughout the nation — a truce declaring that New Yorkers are now free to rule themselves until, once again, New Yorkers are able to rule everyone else.
Sen. Chuck Schumer