Marijuana, unique among drugs, straddles an odd fence between illegality and legality. The plant was totally outlawed in 1970 with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act after years of public hysteria and careful propaganda from interests hoping to score a total ban on the plant. More public “awareness” campaigns, especially ones like DARE of the Reagan era targeted at the youth, persisted for decades. Medical research into the medical benefits of marijuana usage was nearly impossible thanks to a labyrinth of federal regulations. Advocates of legalization were dismissed as “hippies” or worse. However, beginning in the late 90s, states began one by one to pass legislation allowing marijuana for limited medical purposes such as battling the effects of cancer therapy. Here is a brief overview of the legal nightmare of cannabis law, how we got here, and how things might change in the future.
Understanding Federal vs States
Owing to a complex history of the original thirteen colonies forming a union while retaining some degree of autonomy, states’ rights have always been a contentious issue. Unlike other nations where federal authority is absolute, American states are, in theory, responsible for every governmental role not specifically delegated to the federal government in the Constitution. Where laws conflict between the state and federal governments, the federal laws trump state laws, according to Nolo. Unfortunately, this means that as long as marijuana remains federally prohibited then any state laws legalizing it are null and void. This conflict can be seen in action with federal raids on dispensaries and production facilities that are otherwise in full compliance with state law.
The Government’s Classification of Pot
Without any sound scientific rationale, the federal government still classifies marijuana in the same category as heroin and meth, meaning it has no legitimate medical value. According to Kats Botanicals, hemp-derived CBD is legal under the Farm Bill in 2018, but marijuana-derived CBD is still illegal in part because of its classification as a substance 1 drug. Proponents of legalization argue that classification should be a states’ rights issue.
Because of the quasi-illegal status of marijuana, many banks refuse to store money deposited by growers and retailers. Seizure by the DEA and other organizations is common. This has forced some companies to stockpile large amounts of cash and store it in warehouses, creating a whole new set of problems regarding security and theft.
California was the first to buck the federal government rules, and many more states slowly followed. Now, marijuana is totally legal for recreational use in 11 states plus Washington D.C. A comprehensive, logical set of laws is necessary to avoid the problems outlined here and protect both consumers and producers of marijuana.
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