The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution is very simple and yet succinct at the same time. It says “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Really, it boils down to a truism. If the government has not been granted the power, then the power must lay with the state, simple as that. But what happens when the federal government makes up a bunch of laws that aren’t specifically laid out for it in the Constitution. Well?
The answer is usually nothing. If the states decide to go along with the laws or are coerced into going along with the laws. Take for instance when the national drinking age was established by the federal government at 21 years of age and any state could pick whatever age they wanted, but states that picked 21 were going to get their federal highway monies, states that did not, were not. Was it strange that all the states went for 21 except for Louisiana and I think even they have bowed to that pressure.
So the Tenth Amendment is mostly a place holder in the Constitution historically, as it was stated in United States V. Darby (1941) “There is nothing in the history of its adoption to suggest that it was more than declaratory of the relationship between the national and state governments as it had been established by the Constitution before the amendment or that its purpose was other than to allay fears that the new national government might seek to exercise powers not granted, and that the states might not be able to exercise fully their reserved powers.”
Yet now Washington State and Colorado have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Federal law currently prohibits the same, and there are several entities looking at a couple of lawsuits over it. They have stated they may start by going after some recreational users and taking them to court and use their argument, well my state says it is legal to mount a federal lawsuit against the laws in those states. At the same time, the states have an excellent Tenth Amendment case on their hand, covering their sovereignty to enact their own rule of law and govern themselves without burden to the government. As Jefferson once wrote, “It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” So why care, unless absolute rule and adherence to your laws is what is driving this.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am no fan of marijuana I think, and medical science backs me up, that it does a lot of short and long-term damage to your brain. It turns you into a slacker lay about. Now again, if you’re using marijuana to dull the pain of a terminal illness, more power to you, I’m sure you’re not interested in the negative effects when something else is killing you. But for all the recreational users, you’re turning into slugs. I am still fine with that. Why? Less competition. Yup, every person who removes themselves from the levels of intellect, fine motor skills, critical thinking, etc., from the gene pool means less competition against me for everything. I am not against that, which is why I am fine with WA and CO taking their drug laws into the legal. But they may have to fight really hard to keep them in the federal government decides to take the my way or the highway attitude.
The federal US Attorney’s Office in Seattle said that, effectively, nothing had changed. It said: “The department’s responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. Neither states nor the executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress.” Unless that statute is deemed unconstitutional and the tenth amendment may be the statute they can argue it under and win.