Are We Heading for a Civil War Over… Pot and Guns?

Cannabis could be a gateway issue for conservatives to blow up the Constitution.

In the 19th century, it was tariffs and slavery that eventually triggered a Civil War here as devastating as the one we’re debating over in Syria. In the 21st century it’s pot, guns and ObamaCare that tempt the return of old tensions once known as the Nullification Crisis.

As noticeable as dysfunction in Washington is the rampant regionalism which defines its partisan factionalism. Many of the ideological red lines drawn on Capitol Hill appear very much a result of geographic lines beyond it, something that shouldn’t go unnoticed or be casually ignored—yet it tends to get dismissed with “it can’t happen in the 21st century.” Still, contemporary American politics continues its descent into the regurgitation of old issues that history books would have us think were resolved—until gangs of Republicans engineer unfriendly reminders. That has the electorate comfortably isolating itself—at least politically for now—into corners of red and blue, and (more uncomfortably) into acres of North and South.

Right now, the problem presents itself as merely a political crisis. Tempers will flare on the House floor, and Congressional recesses may be met with empty comments about the repeal of passed laws and flirtations with presidential impeachment. Social media is saturated with snarky contempt and fast-talking punkish wit, highlighted by the speedy clickety clack of battling keyboards.

However, more worrisome is a growing collection of states using that crisis to instigate a modern nullification movement in which their rights trump federal rights. While the legalization of medical marijuana in 20 states, including the District of Columbia, might seem like the politically expedient move placating young, pro-pot voters (some of whom are fashioning themselves as the new neo-libertarians), little thought is given to potential long-term consequences. Granted: No one should be robbed of their own personal rights to access cannabis at their leisure. At issue is the way in which cannabis finds its way quietly morphed into a gateway issue for conservatives noisily pimping aggressive calls for states’ rights.

Empowering states to do their own thing shouldn’t be problematic. But, it is if, say, the Missouri state legislature passes then overrides a gubernatorial veto against a law nullifying federal law enforcement of gun laws. Scary enough is that Missouri’s contravention of federal law (so Show Me State folks can carry more firearms) comes on the cusp of revisiting an issue we thought 700,000 Americans lost their lives settling up during the 1860s. Equally fascinating is the sight of family value legislators vehemently opposed to drug use and “drug culture” using the marijuana legalization movement as legal precedent.

Not so sure this was the intent of many progressives who championed pot legalization.

Obviously, it also puts solidly liberal and Democratic municipal strongholds like Philadelphia, Seattle and the District of Columbia in a bind, especially if—as is the case with Philly—cities are surrounded by suburban and rural jurisdictions with a strong Duck Dynasty affinity for weapons. Cities like Philly might have residents eager to light up—but are they as eager about having their neighborhoods lit up by gunfire because conservatives couldn’t resist the temptation to use that as their opening for even more unregulated firearms?

Fervent opposition to ObamaCare shows up as a convenient partner-in-crime. It’s as if Republican hatred of the health care reform law is not so much driven by disagreement over its philosophy or implementation, but because it’s such a strong policy argument in the push to make states rights trump the federal Constitution.

It’s an interesting and mind-numbing combination of drugs and guns to make the nullification point. But it is, frankly, amazing that the Obama administration would announce that it won’t stand in the way of newly celebrated marijuana laws. What might they do when Missouri nullifies federal gun laws, ostensibly channeling the pot legalization craze as a foundation?

Perhaps the White House views it as a compromise, another olive branch in its long, un-reciprocated quest for meaningful concessions from conservatives. When all said and done, the result could be a dangerous acquiescence to state rights that sends chills down the spine of history students familiar with how that ended up just two centuries ago. And anyone who thinks it’s craziness to entertain that notion should tell that to the millions of Americans who still drive around with treasonous rebel flag bumper stickers on their pickups or think the pop-culture revival of redneck culture is cute. And given the Supreme Court’s present disposition, it’s hard to expect a correction when one might be needed.