Last week at a campaign event in Iowa, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie went back and forth with a nurse who is a proponent of legalizing the use of marijuana as medicine.  

Shelly Van Winkle asked Christie how he would balance states’ rights to legalize medicinal marijuana with the fact that federal law still considers marijuana a Schedule 1 drug. Would he do anything to address the confusion?

Christie replied that “federalism is a concept, it’s not a law.”

Whahuh? Hearing such a statement leads one to believe the speaker has a profoundly underdeveloped sense of the foundational elements of the republic.  Federalism is indeed a concept, a concept that is the very roots and soil of the dual sovereignty system enshrined into law with the ratification of the Constitution.  Yes governor, the Constitution itself is law and federalism is a part of it.

Governor Christie is very busy running for President in between shutting down bridges and attending Springsteen shows, so I will break it down for him in the simplest terms I can  – terms I learned in public school in New Jersey.  Federalism is the system where governments may share powers over the same geographic location and the people there.  See, simple enough even for a presidential candidate to grasp.

Christie then goes on to say that he cannot and will not do anything other than “enforce federal law”.  Current federal criminal penalties include 1 year in federal prison for possession of a single joint from a first time offender, 3 years in prison for possessing a marijuana pipe, and things only go up in years and fines from there – up to and including the death penalty – reserved for only wildly successful weed dealers.  

Given that in numerous, and increasing jurisdictions, marijuana possession is not punishable by state and local law, the federal prohibition is all that stands.  State and local police are authorized, of course, only to enforce state and local law.  They may, and often do act cooperatively with federal officials to enforce many crimes, because the acts that make up those crimes are criminal under both state and federal law.  In places where marijuana possession is legal, President Christie would have to dispatch federal law enforcement to enforce the law.



Now, let’s set aside the fact that Governor Christie thinks that FBI agents should be redirected from whatever federal law violations they are currently pursuing to arrest people for single servings of weed.  The question from R.N. Van Winkle was, in part, whether he would change the scheduling of marijuana in the federal law.

Ms. Van Winkle, a Gulf War veteran does not support legalizing marijuana for recreational use.  Her experience and specialization in treating other vets with PTSD has led to her advocacy for it to be legal for doctors to prescribe marijuana, something currently illegal under federal law, because the administration has marijuana classified as a schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act.

It is not possible under federal law for doctors to legally write prescriptions for schedule 1 drugs because they are supposed to be so bad, that no rational reason could exist to give them to anyone for any reason, much less medicine.  FYI, Cocaine is a schedule 2 drug for which prescriptions can be written.

Christie seems to be completely ignorant of the law as well as history however, because the executive does have the power to classify drugs into classes under the Controlled Substances Act.  Between the DEA and HHS – they are the only ones who can.  

In Federalist 17, Hamilton discusses the possible encroachment by the federal government on the powers of the state governments, and one would hope some kind soul would give Governor Christie a copy.  Hamilton writes:

There is one transcendant advantage belonging to the province of the State governments, which alone suffices to place the matter in a clear and satisfactory light, — I mean the ordinary administration of criminal and civil justice. This, of all others, is the most powerful, most universal, and most attractive source of popular obedience and attachment. It is that which, being the immediate and visible guardian of life and property, having its benefits and its terrors in constant activity before the public eye, regulating all those personal interests and familiar concerns to which the sensibility of individuals is more immediately awake, contributes, more than any other circumstance, to impressing upon the minds of the people, affection, esteem, and reverence towards the government. This great cement of society, which will diffuse itself almost wholly through the channels of the particular governments, independent of all other causes of influence, would insure them so decided an empire over their respective citizens as to render them at all times a complete counterpoise, and, not unfrequently, dangerous rivals to the power of the Union.

The operations of the national government, on the other hand, falling less immediately under the observation of the mass of the citizens, the benefits derived from it will chiefly be perceived and attended to by speculative men. Relating to more general interests, they will be less apt to come home to the feelings of the people; and, in proportion, less likely to inspire an habitual sense of obligation, and an active sentiment of attachment.

Our founders clearly thought the place for ordinary criminal law administration was at the state level and below.  Mindful that the Constitution only provides for 3 federal crimes, what would our Founders make of Christie’s assertion?  How will the FBI recruit great candidates if instead of chasing terrorists and the likes of Bernie Madoff, they have to troll the parking lot at Jimmy Buffett shows for stoners?  How can Chris Christie not understand that federalism is the law of the United States, that our system is based on it and, if you’ll forgive the term, it’s baked in?