Quick. Do you know if marijuana is legal in your state? Is it approved for medical, or even recreational, use? If you don’t know, that is completely understandable. We are 50 different states with a patchwork of laws regulating cannabis, nearly all of which are in direct opposition to federal law.
It’s difficult to generalize state by state because the laws are so different. One state’s medical marijuana law may be limited to products containing CBD, a chemical extracted from cannabis and sold in oils, sprays, patches or lotions. Another state’s legislation might allow CBD products, plus the sale of loose marijuana for smoking or edible products. Some states require a doctor’s prescription for purchase, others only proof of residency.
As of February, 39 states, plus Washington, D.C., have legalized the medical use of marijuana. And, as of April, 18 states have fully legalized its recreational use if sold in small amounts through licensed dispensaries to customers over 21.
Without getting into the weeds, pun intended, on the permutations of state pot laws, the trend is firmly on the side of legalizing, but still regulating, cannabis. One major motivation is the millions of dollars in tax revenue it can deliver to cash-strapped states.
So, why does Uncle Sam still list marijuana as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act? Schedule I drugs are those considered to have “a high potential for misuse” and no accepted medical use. Those include heroin, cocaine and LSD. And, if the federal government still considers marijuana a dangerous product, why has its own Food and Drug Administration approved some cannabis compounds, namely THC and cannabidiol, for prescription use?
The situation is such a contradiction.
Take California, for example, where marijuana is legal for both medicinal and recreational use. The Los Angeles County prosecutor is dismissing some 60,000 past marijuana convictions. That follows 66,000 pot cases dismissed previously. District Attorney George Gascon says his action “clears the path for them to find jobs, housing and other services … denied to them because of unjust cannabis laws.”
Everyone is familiar with the competing arguments: marijuana is a gateway drug that can lead to harder, even fatal, drug use vs. marijuana has scientifically proven medicinal qualities and should be legalized for responsible recreational use, just like alcohol.
In 2013, the Obama Justice Department issued a memo to all U.S. Attorneys’ offices saying, in effect, that they should no longer enforce federal marijuana laws in states that had “legalized marijuana in some form.” In 2018, the Trump DOJ rescinded that order. If some hoped there would be a flurry of federal pot prosecutions, they were disappointed.
A slew of bills has been introduced in the U.S. Congress to rectify this confusing situation. Several would completely remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, regulating it like alcohol. Another would allow the Veterans Administration to recommend medical cannabis to vets to treat chronic illness. And the Sensible Enforcement of Cannabis Act seeks to protect lawful marijuana businesses and consumers.
The pandemic interrupted consideration of these bills, although The Safe Banking Act passed the House in April and now awaits action in the Senate. It would put a federal stamp of approval on cannabis commerce, freeing federally controlled banks and credit unions to do business with marijuana merchants without fear of reprisal.
Whether you partake or disagree with legalization, it makes no sense to have two competing sets of laws on marijuana. It’s a fact that some form of cannabis consumption is lawful in most states. This cat is out of the bag and it’s time for Congress to step up to clearly define how to deal with it.