In a meeting with reporters in his office Jan. 4, Hutchinson was asked to react to that day’s big announcement by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions had said the Department of Justice will take less of a hands-off approach to marijuana, which is still illegal nationally, than it did under President Obama. Local federal prosecutors will decide who gets charged.
Hutchinson said Arkansas will be watching to see what the Justice Department does next.
“There needs to be a difference of view between medical marijuana and recreational use of marijuana,” he said. He said Sessions “should” follow the lead of President Trump, who “has recognized medical marijuana as an appropriate exception to federal enforcement policy, but he has not said the same thing about recreational use. I do not want Arkansas to become a recreational use state. People passed medical marijuana. They did not adopt recreational use, and I do not believe they would.”
“Appropriate exception” for medical marijuana
“Appropriate exception.” That’s kind of interesting coming from a governor who vocally opposed medical marijuana when it was a ballot issue and previously served as director of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
A reporter followed up by asking if Hutchinson wants the federal government to create an exception for states like Arkansas that have legalized medical marijuana. If the governor wanted to clarify his position or restate his opposition to medical marijuana, this would have been the time. Instead, he said, “I’m going to leave my comment as to what I just said.”
The governor apparently has softened his position. Perhaps he’s been persuaded by stories about patients who say they’ve benefited from the drug. Or perhaps he’s accepted that voters approved medical marijuana in 2016, and it’s his job to follow their will. In the last legislative session, he signed many bills that implemented the policy – bills that were passed by legislators who also had opposed the ballot issue. There was a general sense in the Capitol that the people had spoken.
And maybe the governor has seen the polls, which show growing support for the drug. In the last Pew Research Center poll, 61 percent of Americans favor full legalization, including for recreational use, up from 57 percent last year. In 2000, it was 31 percent.
It’s time for Congress to act
Regardless of where you come down on this issue, we all should agree that it’s time for Congress to act. Congress should either demand enforcement of the laws it passes, or it should change the laws to clarify whether and when marijuana is legal, or at least make it official that states can make those decisions. But it should not tacitly leave marijuana policy up to the whims of whoever is attorney general, who is leaving it up to the whims of local federal prosecutors. That’s no way to run a constitutional republic like ours with checks and balances. Isn’t Congress supposed to make the laws and the executive branch supposed to enforce them?
Medical marijuana isn’t the only issue where this is happening. Far too much major policy is being made through regulations and executive actions. The most obvious recent example is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program serving 800,000 young people brought to America illegally by their families. Of course Congress should have figured out a way to keep those kids from being kicked out of the country. But instead of changing the law, it let President Obama say they could stay. Now President Trump has ended that policy, and we’re all waiting again for Congress to act.
Here’s how our system should work. The law should be enforced, or changed. But we shouldn’t act like it’s not there. Otherwise, why have laws at all, or elect a Congress to make them?
By Steve Brawner
© 2018 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.