The Constitutional Basis for Ending Cannabis Prohibition from the Bottom Up

While there are many provocative, interesting drug policy reform groups around today, we feel that Peace on our Streets serves a special function. It urges people to get involved at the state and local levels of government, and gives them a plan to do so effectively. This is what has been missing in the anti-prohibition movement for a long time, and we are here to fill that void.

We can legalize faster through state-level legislation than through the ballot initiative process. This is the case because state legislatures can pass bill and get them signed into law without the enormous investment in time and resources necessary to gather petition signature and the millions of dollars necessary to sway voters, and so on.

But the best thing about the Peace in Our Streets plan is its iron-clad legitimacy.

The legislation is based largely upon a well-established legal principle. The Supreme Court has affirmed the anti-commandeering doctrine on at least four separate occasions, making its application very non-controversial. It does not attempt to invalidate federal law or do anything to stop it from being enforced at the federal level. However, it does authorize state and local governments to simply not participate in the enforcement of prohibition.

Abolitionists most famously used anti-commandeering principle to combat slavery in the years leading up to the Civil War. After the Supreme Court re-affirmed the abhorrent Fugitive Slave Act in Prigg vs. Pennsylvania (1842) ruling, states had to take a different approach to resisting. Fortunately. Justice Story gave them just what they needed, ruling that while states could not block fugitive slave rendition, they could not be compelled to assist, as it was purely a federal law.

Previously, northern states such as Pennsylvania were arresting slave catchers looking to drag runaways (and often free black citizens) back to captivity. After Prigg, states began passing personal liberty laws prohibiting state cooperation with rendition. For instance, Michigan prohibited federal marshals and slave commissioners from using state or local jails to hold fugitives. This was quite an impediment since federal prisons didn't exist. Massachusetts made it an impeachable offense for state officials to participate in the rendition process, and barred the guilty from ever holding state office.

These state actions were enough to protect the freedom for many slaves who otherwise may have been returned to bondage.

In another ruling that re-affirmed the anti-commandeering doctrine, New York vs. United States (1992), Justice Sandra Day O'Connor held that the feds could not force states to implement federal nuclear waste policy, saying, "States are not mere political subdivisions of the United States... Whatever the outer limits of [state] sovereignty may be, one thing is clear: The Federal Government may not compel the States to enact or administer a federal regulatory program." This sums up the rationale behind our project, and why it can have great success at combating federal regulation of hemp and marijuana!

James Madison, often called the father of the Constitution, actually laid out the blueprint for anti-commandeering before the Constitution as ratified in Federalist #46:

Should an unwarrantable measure of the federal government be unpopular in particular States, which would seldom fail to be the case, or even a warrantable measure be so, which may sometimes be the case, the means of opposition to it are powerful and at hand. The disquietude of the people; their repugnance and, perhaps, refusal to co-operate with the officers of the Union; the frowns of the executive magistracy of the State; the embarrassments created by legislative devices, which would often be added on such occasions, would oppose, in any State, difficulties not to be despised; would form, in a large State, very serious impediments; and where the sentiments of several adjoining States happened to be in unison, would present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.

In our case, the 'unwarrantable measures' are hemp and marijuana prohibition. 'The means of opposition' are the Hemp Freedom Act and Cannabis Freedom Act and they are indeed 'at hand.' These pieces of legislation, when enacted, prompt a 'refusal to co-operate with the officers of the Union.' These 'very serious impediments' create the 'obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.'

Recently, California and Connecticut took Madison's blueprint and applied it to the immigration issue, passing Trust Acts. These bills protect immigrants by mandating that local law enforcement quickly release detained immigrants who don’t have serious criminal records. TRUST Acts deny ICE the help it needs, and the strategy proved quite effective. For example, deportations dropped 44 percent for 15 of the 23 counties that made data available to the Associated Press.

Acquiescing to unjust federal power is what has hurt our country for so many years, and the "War on Drugs" serves as a prime example. It has contributed to the perpetuation of violence in many different ways. That needs to change.

The goal of Peace on our Streets is to spark that change. We are about empowering individuals and communities alike to come together against the madness of the drug war. It has been waged for long enough. Too many lives and too much money has been squandered. Since the feds never seem to give up power on their own, we have to use the anti-commandeering doctrine as a blueprint for reclaiming our lost freedom. Join us, and help our noble cause achieve success!