Connecticut House Votes to Legalize Medical Marijuana Over Federal Attorney’s Objections

Look out California! Legalizing medicinal marijuana is no longer just for “hippies” in states out West. The Connecticut House of Representatives voted 96-51 late Wednesday to legalize medical marijuana.

Despite a strongly-worded letter from Connecticut’s top federal prosecutor warning that passage of the bill would contradict federal law, legislators in the Constitution State are taking the Tenth Amendment route to reforming drug policy for their residents and openly defying federal law by making the possession and use of the federally-scheduled plant legal for adults with a prescription from a physician to relieve pain from various illnesses and ailments.

According to the Hartford Courant, U.S. Attorney David B. Fein of Connecticut issued a strongly worded letter to two state senators about the bill just two days before its passage, writing:

“House Bill 5389 will create a licensing scheme that appears to permit large-scale marijuana cultivation and distribution, which would authorize conduct contrary to federal law and undermine the federal government’s efforts to regulate the possession, manufacturing, and trafficking of controlled substances. Accordingly, the Department of Justice could consider civil and criminal legal remedies against those individuals and entities that set up marijuana growing facilities and dispensaries, as they will be doing so in violation of federal law.”

There are two big stories here. One is the continued momentum for the liberalization of drug policy in the United States, especially regarding marijuana. It’s an idea who’s time appears to have come, and not only for medicinal purposes, but for adult recreational use as well. Even in a state as seemingly straight-laced as East Coast Connecticut, policymakers are beginning to see the merit in slowly rolling back America’s decades-long experiment in prohibition, if only out of compassion for suffering patients whose lives could be improved with medicinal marijuana use.

The other big story is the continued momentum for the localization of public policy in the United States. It’s not just what these legislators have done, but how they’ve done it. The Connecticut House has chosen to move forward with what a majority of its members consider the best local solution even though it violates a federal law. We are witnessing the beginnings of a drug policy revolution in this country. Agree or disagree with the direction drug policy is taking, most analysts would be hard pressed to disagree that drug policy is definitely taking that direction, and at an accelerating rate.

Perhaps more significantly in a broader historical sense and with regard to its widespread effects on how our society is constituted, we are witnessing the beginnings of a Tenth Amendment revolution in this country, a struggle for power between the states and the federal government, with more and more states choosing to defy federal law more and more brazenly in favor of local solutions made by decision makers closer to the people they represent.

As for the fate of the bill in Connecticut, there is some precedent for it. A measure to legalize medical marijuana failed once in 2003, barely passed in 2004, and actually made its way through both houses in 2007 only to be vetoed by the governor. Whatever happens, its passage by such a wide margin and despite strong warnings from the state’s highest federal prosecutor is in itself a sign of the times.