Federalism — the revered principle of our government, as old as any other — is at constant risk of being undermined.

Thursday witnessed the newest challenge to this system as the legalization of marijuana in Washington, D.C. was formally implemented at 12:01 a.m.
Following in the footsteps of voters in Washington state and Colorado, voters in D.C. approved the legalization of marijuana in the District by a margin of 38 percent in last November’s elections. 
This initiative abolished any penalty for consuming, possessing or producing the drug, but it upheld strict legal penalties for those who buy or sell the drug. The initiative was set to become law unless it was rejected by a congressional review within 30 legislative days. 
The legal deadline has passed, but the newly enacted law remains in unnecessarily precarious standing. Arguments against legalizing marijuana are not without validity, and congressional Republicans are certainly entitled to their opinions on the matter. 
In December, for example, they made an attempt to block the initiative, but managed only to prevent further legalization efforts from taking effect. But, since the deadline for review has passed with no congressional action, continued harassment the District’s government about legalization brings the issue beyond marijuana and calls into question the rights of D.C.’s voters.
The decision to legalize marijuana by D.C.’s citizens is no different than one made by the citizens of any state — the residents voted to approve a measure at their local level of the federal government. 
Those in favor of blocking the law, especially through bullying and intimidation, are therefore implicitly counteracting the same principles of local governmental fidelity that many of them also champion. 
If the federal government is justified in interfering with D.C.’s adoption of a law that has been approved, then no political principle is stopping it from interfering in the law-making autonomy granted to states. 
Congressional lawmakers need to understand this and refocus the debate on how best to implement the law to minimize associated problems and maximize efficacy. Their failure to do so thus far represents a failure to protect one of our most important principles: federalism.

 

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