Replying to a question from a self-described former addict about marijuana legalization, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli used the opportunity to explain his views on federalism to an audience of Republican activists in Albemarle County on February 9.
Cuccinelli, a candidate for governor in 2013 and author of a new book scheduled to be published on February 12, The Last Line of Defense: The New Fight for American Liberty (Crown Forum, 272 pages, $25), said that “one of the problems with the ever-layering on of federal regulations and commands about how we all run our governments, our local governments, our businesses, is this sort of maniacal drive that we all be the same.”
Diversity, Cuccinelli explained, “is a strength of this country. We shouldn't try to wring it out, including intellectual diversity and policy diversity, because we get these sorts of experiments and some of them don't work and some of them may work.”
Colorado and Washington
Earlier in the week, the Attorney General had told students at the University of Virginia that, with regard to the legalization of recreational use of marijuana by voters in Colorado and Washington state, “I and a lot of people are watching Colorado and Washington to see how it plays out.”
Cuccinelli used his appearance at the Albemarle GOP breakfast to clarify and expand on his remarks at UVA.
“What I expressed to [the students] was an openness to observe how things work there, both in terms of the drug side and the economics. One issue that is often discussed is how the war on drugs itself has played out. Have we done this the right way? It's been phenomenally expensive.”
If the government, he said, is “going to put people in jail and spend $25,000 [to] $30,000 a year for a prison bed, do we want it to be for someone who's pushing marijuana or pushing meth? I'll tell you what, that $30,000 for the meth pusher is well worth the deal.”
Different kinds of illicit drugs, he said, are “not the same” and policymakers have to set priorities in terms of law and of how the laws are enforced.
“We have limits on our budget and our ability to police this, so we've got to make these kinds of distinctions over time.”
'Simple federalism experiment'
The benefit of the legalization of cannabis in Colorado and Washington, he explained, is that “having data from a couple of states, whole states, that go down this path may not be good news but it will be interesting and it will be something we can learn from.”
The situation in those two Western states “is going to be interesting on several levels,” he said, including “as a simple federalism experiment.”
What, he asked, is “the federal government going to do? What are they going to do? How is this interaction between the states and federal government going to take place?”
Cuccinelli said he has no “problem watching that. It's a peculiar subject but I do think it's important that states try some things they think are appropriate and whether the federal government approves or not, the rest of us watch and learn.”
He explained he had told the UVA students, “I'm ready to watch and learn. I'm not ready to do it [legalize marijuana] but I don't want to just never ever say never to the possibility in the future.”
When the federal government forces all states to be uniform, he said, diversity and experimentation are undermined.
“We're not going to have any [experiments] if the federal government is just squashing all of us,” Cuccinelli said, adding: “That's something I have fought against as AG.”
At the same time, he continued, “I don't want you to think that I'm going to land in the governor's office and sign a legalization bill. I don't think you have to worry about it getting to the governor's desk but it's worth knowing what your candidate's saying.”