The historic American battle to either give or take power from Washington has just seen a victory for Washington. On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress can override a state law that allows the private, nonprofit use of doctor-prescribed marijuana.
The issue of legalized marijuana isn't really at stake in this decision - this publication clearly opposes such use - as much as the court's backtracking on its recent rulings giving more authority to states. That trend toward federalism must not be eroded by this case.
The court found that even if the marijuana at issue does not cross state lines, its local use has enough implications nationally to invoke the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution. Thus, the federal law that controls such drugs can trump state laws on drugs.
The harm in this 6-to-3 decision is that it further erodes the role of states as laboratories for social, legal, and political experiments. The nation has benefited from various failed and successful state initiatives since its founding. Wisconsin, for instance, was a pioneer in the kind of welfare reform adopted nationally in 1996.
California's Compassionate Use Act is such an experiment, one that should be overturned by its lawmakers. This legalized use of medical marijuana holds a dangerous potential to spread the drug and to create an impression that it's harmless.
Prior to this verdict, the Rehnquist court had been drawing a "bright line" in favor of state sovereignty. Almost any human activity can be seen as having interstate implications. Yet the nation's strength lies in keeping many solutions local. While the practical result of this decision is correct in supporting a ban on marijuana, the court was irresponsible to push the country further away from one of the great strengths in the Constitution.