On November 4th, 2020, Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota joined the list of states where marijuana is legalized and could be used for recreation. Besides, according to the survey conducted by Yu et al. (2020), marijuana is the most commonly used drug among the drugs that are illicit at the federal level. The current essay discusses how federalism relates to the legalization of marijuana and argues that the legalization of recreational marijuana is an example of the states as “laboratories of democracy.”
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To begin with, while in some states, it is lawful to use marijuana, in other states, people go to jail for the same action. Such unfairness happens because a state law takes precedence if it contradicts federal law. It does not seem to be honest that some US citizens get imprisoned for the use of a drug that is illicit at the national level, while others could use it freely. Besides, it could be suggested that differences between federal and state laws violate the US constitution that claims that all US citizens should be treated equally. Most people are deprived of the possibility of moving from a state where the use of marijuana is prohibited to a state where it is lawful. Thus, it seems that, in comparison with the representatives of the state where marijuana is entirely legalized or legalized for medical use only, citizens of Idaho and Nebraska are infringed on their rights.
The previously described unfairness became possible due to federalism. It is a useful tool to avoid civil wars, protect population minorities, and avoid conflicts (Keil, 2019). This illustrates that under the system of federalism, states have real power to protect the citizens. People’s freedom and safety are guaranteed by the existence of two governments, one of which is concerned with the interests of a limited number of people, not the entire country.
At the same time, it might be argued that federalism leads to potential instability. This instability is more likely to occur at the national, not local levels. For instance, the existence of state governments by any means guarantees equality of subnational units: some states, cantons, or provinces are more prosperous, while others are poorer. This gap occurs because subnational units possess a different amount of natural resources, and their development might be affected by some historical reasons. The threat of stability in a nation with a federal system is exacerbated by the existence of several centers of power. Undoubtedly, federalism satisfies a subnational unit’s desire for autonomy. Nevertheless, at the same time, it motivates secession demands. For instance, in 2015, in California was formed a political action committee called “Yes California” that promotes independence of this state from the US.
Legalizing recreational marijuana can be viewed as an example of the states as “laboratories of democracy.” The concept of “laboratories of democracy” implies that autonomous states test various laws and policies so that they are to be implemented at the national level in case of success. The definition clearly illustrates the legalization of marijuana in some states is an experiment. What is more, the continuously increasing number of states that legalize the use of recreational marijuana shows that this experiment is successful. Thus, it might be supposed that the day will come when marijuana would become a legal drug at the national level.
Keil, S. (2019). Federalism as a tool of conflict resolution. In J. Kincaid (Ed.). A Research Agenda for Federalism Studies (pp. 151–161). Edward Elgar Publishing.
Yu, B., Chen, X., Chen, X., & Yan, H. (2020). Marijuana legalization and historical trends in marijuana use among US residents aged 12–25: results from the 1979–2016 National Survey on drug use and health. BMC public health, 20(1), 1-10.
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