Medical heavy restrictions on the research that can

marijuana had been legal in California for more than two decades, but on
January 1st the state of California legalized the use of marijuana
for recreational purposes. California is the eighth state to have legalized
recreational marijuana, alongside Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Alaska,
Massachusetts, and Maine. The decision to legalize recreational marijuana in
the nation’s most populous state, can be seen as a huge potential catalyst in
mainstreaming marijuana, however the drug remains illegal in the eyes of the
federal government. There appears to be a nationwide confusion surrounding
whether it is legal to sell, buy, or possess marijuana in parts of the United
States where state and federal laws conflict. The federal government should not
be the one to decide the legality of marijuana, rather it should ultimately be
up to the states to decide the whether or not to legalize marijuana, because as
citizens, our opinions and values should be taken into heavy consideration when
federal legislation integrates new policies that have the ability to influence
our daily lives.  

There have always been political and societal
disputes regarding recreational marijuana because even if cannabis is legal at
the state level, it’s still illegal at the federal level. This all goes back to
the Controlled Substance Act (CSA), passed in 1970. Under the CSA, cannabis is
classified as a Schedule 1 substance, which is determined to have high
potential for abuse and no accepted medical use, Amanda Reiman, manager for
marijuana law and policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, explains, “The CSA placed
drugs into schedules based on how dangerous they were, whether they had medical
value, and how addictive they were.” President Nixon recommended to place
marijuana in the Schedule 1 category, which is the most restrictive level for
drugs. Years later, it was found that Nixon did not have justification in his
decision; he thought it would be easier to arrest antiwar protestors and black
people. There is a large amount of scientific evidence that shows that
marijuana does have real medical benefits and it would make sense to reschedule
the drug, however it is not an easy task. The schedule 1 classification puts heavy
restrictions on the research that can be performed on the drug, in addition the
federal government does not allot money to researchers, simply because
cannabis’ classification indicates that it does not hold medical value. It is
extremely confusing because the purview about drugs has gone back and forth
between federal and state governments. The federal government decides what is
legal and isn’t legal, but the severity of the consequences for minor
violations of those laws is decided by the individual states. This essentially
means that even if marijuana is illegal at the federal level, states may have
the power to decriminalize possession of the drug. However, Reiman clarifies,
“What is not up to the states ever is whether or not a drug is legal,” this was
challenged when Colorado and Washington became the first states to pass by
voter initiative so that adults could legally use marijuana and could license
the commercial sales of it, which was in direct violation of the federal

            The recent legalization of marijuana
in California is expected to further raise tensions between the state and
federal drug enforcement officials, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions,

a vocal
opponent of the legalization of marijuana. Sessions rescinded a Barack
Obama-era federal policy that will make it difficult for California to start
its regulated marijuana marketplace. Sessions views the use of marijuana as
detrimental, and that it should not be encouraged in any way because it
represents federal violation. Sessions did not go as far as some advocates
feared he might, stopping short of directing more prosecutions, resources or
efforts to control the whole industry. In one of his memos to all federal
prosecutors, he said, “In deciding which marijuana activities to prosecute
under these laws with the department’s finite resources, prosecutors should
follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions.”
It is uncertain how Session’s memo will play out at the state level, as each
U.S. attorney will get to decide what aspects will and will not be prosecuted.
This produces widespread conflict and reduces the level of comfort in the
industry until we see how U.S. attorneys implement new policies and
regulations. Even Trump promised to let states set their own marijuana
policies, but he is now breaking his promise by letting Sessions to express his
extremist anti-marijuana battle. The Trump administration is becoming more
resolute on protecting states’ rights only when they believe a state is right,
which is completely unjustified.

            The decision of Sessions and
ultimate control of federal government policies hinders the voice voters have
in each state. This crackdown could prove very unpopular, going against voters
where recreational marijuana is already legal, such as Oregon and Nevada. It
appears that the Justice Department has a way of crushing the will of the
voters, especially since the support for legalization has been steadily growing
in recent years. The recreational marijuana industry has seen support grow from
51% to 64%, and considering that the new administration is resoundingly
pro-business, the potential for economic growth is a very positive attribute.
While both Sessions and chief of staff John Kelly have criticized legalization,
President Trump has previosuly discussed that the issue should be left up to
the states. The number of states willing to legalize the use of marijuana for
either medical or recreational use seems to be growing. Jeffrey Zucker,
president of a Denver firm that promotes marijuana businesses said, “I expect
any actions he and the Justice Department take against the industry will be met
with significant pushback from the states that are benefiting greatly from an
economic and quality of life standpoint.” The cannabis industry will continue regardless
of this decision, but the issue remains whether laws regarding the use and
distribution of marijuana should be created and regulated by state and local
governments or managed at the federal level. Former U.S. Attorney General
Loretta Lynch shared her position on the legalization issue, “States have to
make those decisions own. They listen to their citizens and they take actions.
What we have said and what we continue to say is that states have to also have
a system designed to number one, mitigate violence associated with their
marijuana industries. And number two, and perhaps most importantly, keep young
people, and children away from the products.” Arguing with the states-rights
perspective, it is logical to allow states to decide for themselves how to deal
with marijuana. Federal prohibitions have proven that passing laws against
marijuana and criminalizing people would not eliminate marijuana use in
society. Giving states the authority to decide marijuana laws and policy,
rather than Jeff sessions or any other administration, is possibly the most
rational approach moving forward.

            While many states, with California
most recently, having legalized marijuana use, the drug is still illegal under
federal law, creating major upheavals between federal and state law. There are
people who believe that the decisions about marijuana should be the
responsibility of the federal government. Robert Mikos, a professor of law at
Vanderbilt Law school argued in favor of federal government control, “Ultimately
it makes sense to consolidate the power over marijuana back into the hands of
the federal government and in particular into the hands of Congress.” There are
large variations and discrepancies between state regulations and policies that
make it difficult to control the activity of marijuana laws and policies. The
varying jurisdictions have different legislation regulating marijuana use and
distribution, in addition, states that have already legalized the substance are
not going to exclusively gain the benefits nor acquire all of the cost
associated with its legalization. Neighboring states are also capable of
receiving revenue of legal marijuana sales, “Last year alone, in 2014, the
state estimates Colorado licensed vendors sold about 10 tons of legal marijuana
to out-of-staters.” Another problem Mikos points out is the fact that cities,
local jurisdiction, and states are not prepared to deal with dynamic
regulations easily. Congress has the potential to do a much better job of
considering all the different conditions on deciding whether or not to legalize
recreational marijuana, in addition Congress can take liberty and freedom into
account as well as their ability to include policy in decision-making
processes. Mikos’ further argument for allowing the federal government to have
authority over marijuana is the expertise that the Drug Enforcement Agency
offers, “The DEA may not have made great decisions in the past but they have
more expertise, more knowledge, more capacity to make good decisions about a
drug like marijuana, its harms and benefits, than does the local city council
or even state legislature.” The arguments for federal government control over
marijuana policies are quite compelling, however it does not take into
consideration a key issue regarding the position of recreational marijuana in
society, that being the public opinion.

            Polls show that most Americans
support the legalization, unfortunately we have an administration that
frequently ignores the viewpoints of community members. The federal government
is increasingly becoming absurd with its position on marijuana, especially because
of the schedule 1 classification. This illogical reasoning explains why many
states have disregarded the federal government’s rules and regulations. It is problematic
for the public to consider the law that saws marijuana and heroin have the same
potential for abuse; marijuana has proven beneficial for millions of medicinal users,
while the vastly more addictive narcotics have ruined millions of peoples’
lives. It would be a significant movement if states took the lead on these decisions,
because they are getting tired of imprisoning thousands of their own citizens
for possession of a drug that has less potential for abuse and detrimental
behavior than alcohol. Marijuana consumption is not a right that should be enforced
on the states by the federal government, it should be a choice that states can make
based on cultural and social values of its citizens. 


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