The Legality of Marijuana
Marijuana has been a hot topic in the United States for decades. In recent years states have started legalizing marijuana for multiple purposes. The purposes range from medicinal use to recreational use. Under the Supremacy Clause the Federal Government has the final say in lawmaking. This means that a federal law or mandate has supremacy over a state law or mandate. The Federal Government has marijuana listed as a Schedule 1 drug along with drugs such as LSD and heroin. Some states on the other hand have been legalizing marijuana. This clash of interests is causing a current constitutional crisis on the legality of marijuana.
Marijuana wasn’t always illegal in the United States. From 1906 to 1937 marijuana was legal, but had to be properly labeled when sold over the counter. Throughout the 1930’s people began to have a negative outlook on marijuana and there were films linking pot smokers to violence. In 1937 marijuana was made officially illegal by the Marijuana Tax Act. This act made possession of marijuana illegal. Weed could still be bought legally for medical and industrial uses, but it now had an excise tax attached to it. In 1944 the New York Academy of Medicine declared that marijuana use wasn’t as bad as previously reported. The Academy’s report went on to state that weed does not induce violence, insanity or sexual crimes in people. It is important to mention, that during World War 2 farmers were encouraged to grow hemp for industrial purposes. The Federal Government went as far as to grant draft pardons to people that grew hemp for the government. Multiple acts made possession of marijuana a more punished crime. The 1952 the Boggs Act was passed and in 1956 the Narcotics Control Act was passed. These acts made it that there was now a two year minimum sentence for possession and a person could be fined up to $20,000. These acts weren’t repealed until 1970 when policy makers realized minimum sentences didn’t stop people from abusing drugs. The 1980’s started the “war” on drugs that continues today. In 1984 the Anti-Drug Abuse Act was passed which added minimum sentences again based off of the amount of marijuana a person has on them when caught. In 1989 George Bush officially declared the “war” on drugs. The first major pro-marijuana win was in 1996 when California legalized cannabis for medicinal use. The 20th century saw the government criminalization of marijuana while certain decades like the 1960’s saw widespread recreational use of weed. The culmination of 20th century policies on drugs in general started the current “war” on drugs the government is waging and it also started the trend of states to legal marijuana for certain purposes.
There is currently a constitutional crisis on the legality of marijuana. California started the trend of legalizing weed for medical use in 1996. Since 1996 there are 29 states that allow use of cannabis for medicinal purposes and eight states allow for recreational use of marijuana above the age of 21. This is important because the Federal Government has marijuana listed as a schedule one drug. 2005 saw the first Supreme Court case to address the legality of cannabis. In Gonzales v. Raich a woman named Raich sued after her marijuana plants were destroyed by local police and the Drug Enforcement Agency. Raich lived in California where state legislators made medicinal weed legal. The Supreme Court ruled against her using the Supremacy Clause stating that Federal law trumps state law. The majority opinion also states that growing marijuana for medicinal use can still cause other people to come in contact or acquire cannabis. The Federal Government justifies their anti-marijuana laws on the fact the they have sole authority of interstate commerce. Under the Obama administration, the government took a stance that they would leave states alone that legalized weed. Donald Trump claimed that he would also leave states alone that legalized cannabis. However, the Federal Government stated that they might start cracking down on recreational use of marijuana. This coincides with the current Attorney General Jeff Sessions who is against the legalization of cannabis. There are multiple causes of friction between the Federal Government and citizens in states that have cannabis legalized. Dispensaries have to be cash based because banks and credit unions can’t legally take marijuana money. This causes problems with taxation of income for the industry that made 5.4 billion dollars in 2015 according to the ArcView Group. In 2014 Obama signed into effect a law that would ban federal agencies from closing marijuana dispensaries in states where marijuana is legalized. What the issue comes down to is that the Federal Government has the authority to regulate weed and the Supreme Court backed that up in Gonzales v. Raich. However, the Federal Government has basically stopped enforcing marijuana laws on states that have passed their own pro-marijuana legislation. This brings into question the length that the Federal Government will keep marijuana illegal. There are still 21 states where possessing marijuana even for medical purposes is still illegal.
The Civil War was fought over state rights and yet the issue has still not been completely resolved. There are 29 states that allow either medical or recreational use of marijuana. Some people who call themselves marijuana “refugees” travel to states where medicinal weed is legal because they need it for medical purposes. The elephant in the room is how to solve this issue. I believe that with more and more states legalizing cannabis congress will eventually legalize marijuana for at least medical use. There is currently a loud outcry to help people that desperately need it for treatment. I believe that the best outcome is that a bill gets passed through congress legalizing medicinal marijuana. I don’t believe recreational use is as big as an issue, but medicinal is a good starting point to pass recreational laws. If the Federal Government legalizes weed they can regulate the minimum age for it and more importantly use marijuana to bring in major tax revenue. The main thing to look at is that with legalization everyone wins.
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