Medicalmarijuana had been legal in California for more than two decades, but onJanuary 1st the state of California legalized the use of marijuanafor recreational purposes.
California is the eighth state to have legalizedrecreational marijuana, alongside Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Alaska,Massachusetts, and Maine. The decision to legalize recreational marijuana inthe nation’s most populous state, can be seen as a huge potential catalyst inmainstreaming marijuana, however the drug remains illegal in the eyes of thefederal government. There appears to be a nationwide confusion surroundingwhether it is legal to sell, buy, or possess marijuana in parts of the UnitedStates where state and federal laws conflict. The federal government should notbe the one to decide the legality of marijuana, rather it should ultimately beup to the states to decide the whether or not to legalize marijuana, because ascitizens, our opinions and values should be taken into heavy consideration whenfederal legislation integrates new policies that have the ability to influenceour daily lives. There have always been political and societaldisputes regarding recreational marijuana because even if cannabis is legal atthe state level, it’s still illegal at the federal level. This all goes back tothe Controlled Substance Act (CSA), passed in 1970. Under the CSA, cannabis isclassified as a Schedule 1 substance, which is determined to have highpotential for abuse and no accepted medical use, Amanda Reiman, manager formarijuana law and policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, explains, “The CSA placeddrugs into schedules based on how dangerous they were, whether they had medicalvalue, and how addictive they were.
” President Nixon recommended to placemarijuana in the Schedule 1 category, which is the most restrictive level fordrugs. Years later, it was found that Nixon did not have justification in hisdecision; he thought it would be easier to arrest antiwar protestors and blackpeople. There is a large amount of scientific evidence that shows thatmarijuana does have real medical benefits and it would make sense to reschedulethe drug, however it is not an easy task. The schedule 1 classification puts heavyrestrictions on the research that can be performed on the drug, in addition thefederal government does not allot money to researchers, simply becausecannabis’ classification indicates that it does not hold medical value. It isextremely confusing because the purview about drugs has gone back and forthbetween federal and state governments.
The federal government decides what islegal and isn’t legal, but the severity of the consequences for minorviolations of those laws is decided by the individual states. This essentiallymeans that even if marijuana is illegal at the federal level, states may havethe 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 waschallenged when Colorado and Washington became the first states to pass byvoter initiative so that adults could legally use marijuana and could licensethe commercial sales of it, which was in direct violation of the federalgovernment.
The recent legalization of marijuanain California is expected to further raise tensions between the state andfederal drug enforcement officials, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions,a vocalopponent of the legalization of marijuana. Sessions rescinded a BarackObama-era federal policy that will make it difficult for California to startits regulated marijuana marketplace. Sessions views the use of marijuana asdetrimental, and that it should not be encouraged in any way because itrepresents federal violation. Sessions did not go as far as some advocatesfeared he might, stopping short of directing more prosecutions, resources orefforts to control the whole industry. In one of his memos to all federalprosecutors, he said, “In deciding which marijuana activities to prosecuteunder these laws with the department’s finite resources, prosecutors shouldfollow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions.
“It is uncertain how Session’s memo will play out at the state level, as eachU.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 theindustry until we see how U.S.
attorneys implement new policies andregulations. Even Trump promised to let states set their own marijuanapolicies, but he is now breaking his promise by letting Sessions to express hisextremist anti-marijuana battle. The Trump administration is becoming moreresolute on protecting states’ rights only when they believe a state is right,which is completely unjustified. The decision of Sessions andultimate control of federal government policies hinders the voice voters havein each state. This crackdown could prove very unpopular, going against voterswhere recreational marijuana is already legal, such as Oregon and Nevada. Itappears that the Justice Department has a way of crushing the will of thevoters, especially since the support for legalization has been steadily growingin recent years. The recreational marijuana industry has seen support grow from51% to 64%, and considering that the new administration is resoundinglypro-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 tothe states. The number of states willing to legalize the use of marijuana foreither medical or recreational use seems to be growing. Jeffrey Zucker,president of a Denver firm that promotes marijuana businesses said, “I expectany actions he and the Justice Department take against the industry will be metwith significant pushback from the states that are benefiting greatly from aneconomic and quality of life standpoint.
” The cannabis industry will continue regardlessof this decision, but the issue remains whether laws regarding the use anddistribution of marijuana should be created and regulated by state and localgovernments or managed at the federal level. Former U.S. Attorney GeneralLoretta Lynch shared her position on the legalization issue, “States have tomake 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 havea system designed to number one, mitigate violence associated with theirmarijuana industries. And number two, and perhaps most importantly, keep youngpeople, and children away from the products.” Arguing with the states-rightsperspective, it is logical to allow states to decide for themselves how to dealwith marijuana. Federal prohibitions have proven that passing laws againstmarijuana and criminalizing people would not eliminate marijuana use insociety. Giving states the authority to decide marijuana laws and policy,rather than Jeff sessions or any other administration, is possibly the mostrational approach moving forward. While many states, with Californiamost recently, having legalized marijuana use, the drug is still illegal underfederal law, creating major upheavals between federal and state law.
There arepeople who believe that the decisions about marijuana should be theresponsibility of the federal government. Robert Mikos, a professor of law atVanderbilt Law school argued in favor of federal government control, “Ultimatelyit makes sense to consolidate the power over marijuana back into the hands ofthe federal government and in particular into the hands of Congress.” There arelarge variations and discrepancies between state regulations and policies thatmake it difficult to control the activity of marijuana laws and policies.
Thevarying jurisdictions have different legislation regulating marijuana use anddistribution, in addition, states that have already legalized the substance arenot going to exclusively gain the benefits nor acquire all of the costassociated with its legalization. Neighboring states are also capable ofreceiving revenue of legal marijuana sales, “Last year alone, in 2014, thestate estimates Colorado licensed vendors sold about 10 tons of legal marijuanato out-of-staters.” Another problem Mikos points out is the fact that cities,local jurisdiction, and states are not prepared to deal with dynamicregulations easily. Congress has the potential to do a much better job ofconsidering all the different conditions on deciding whether or not to legalizerecreational marijuana, in addition Congress can take liberty and freedom intoaccount as well as their ability to include policy in decision-makingprocesses. Mikos’ further argument for allowing the federal government to haveauthority over marijuana is the expertise that the Drug Enforcement Agencyoffers, “The DEA may not have made great decisions in the past but they havemore expertise, more knowledge, more capacity to make good decisions about adrug like marijuana, its harms and benefits, than does the local city councilor even state legislature.” The arguments for federal government control overmarijuana policies are quite compelling, however it does not take intoconsideration a key issue regarding the position of recreational marijuana insociety, that being the public opinion.
Polls show that most Americanssupport the legalization, unfortunately we have an administration thatfrequently ignores the viewpoints of community members. The federal governmentis increasingly becoming absurd with its position on marijuana, especially becauseof the schedule 1 classification. This illogical reasoning explains why manystates have disregarded the federal government’s rules and regulations. It is problematicfor the public to consider the law that saws marijuana and heroin have the samepotential 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 citizensfor possession of a drug that has less potential for abuse and detrimentalbehavior than alcohol. Marijuana consumption is not a right that should be enforcedon the states by the federal government, it should be a choice that states can makebased on cultural and social values of its citizens.