Federalism, Chris Christie, and Marijuana

Is our federalist system a way for states to offer different penalties, or no penalties, for commonly illegal drugs?

This 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.”

Does this understanding of federalism match with the Founders’? How would the authors of the Federalist Papers decide this issue?

Federalist No. 17 specifically regards the possible encroachment by the federal government on the powers of the state governments. Hamilton argues that because states are given the most direct power over their citizens, namely the ability to administer criminal and civil justice, they remain “the most attractive source of popular obedience and attachment.”