As of today, 26 states allow recreational or medical use of marijuana. For the last 10 years, the U.S. has seen a steady increase of states enacting legislation to decriminalize or legalize marijuana. At the same time, states are not only decriminalizing marijuana, but are attempting to provide a regulatory apparatus for its sale. Still, we have yet to see similar movement at the federal level despite surveys that indicates that two out of three Americans support legalization. With a lack of scientific studies on the long term effects of marijuana, and public perception in certain areas of the country still lagging behind the progressive states, there is clearly an uphill road ahead for national marijuana reform. The following outlines some of the current hurdles slowing federal change in marijuana legislation, and also details some strategies Congress should employ in re-analyzing federal marijuana legislation.
The Controlled Substances Act Made Weed Illegal
The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) prohibits the cultivation and distribution of marijuana by placing it in a category (Schedule I) reserved for drugs that are unhelpful and dangerous. In doing so, the CSA approached this problem from the wrong direction and had failed to take into account marijuana’s medical applications. For example, numerous studies have shown marijuana to have an almost limitless potential in pain relief and management. Further, people use drugs for medical or recreational purposes, and each one requires a separate legal scheme.
Medical Marijuana Use
For over 50 years, the U.S. government has given the responsibility of deciding whether a certain drug is safe and effective to the Commissioner of Food and Drugs. The reasoning for this was that those decisions require the scientific expertise of professionals in the fields of medicine, biochemistry and psychology, not the legal knowledge of government lawyers or subjective moral inclinations of the electorate. The question is whether it would be wise then for Congress to leave to the judgment of the FDA Commissioner the decision how federal law should regulate medical-use marijuana. They have been historically hostile towards drugs that cannot be controlled by corporation.
Recreational Marijuana Use
American laws allow alcohol and tobacco to be sold and consumed under regulation. With alcohol, the Twenty-First Amendment empowers states to decide whether and how to sell liquor with little room for additional federal regulation. For tobacco, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 authorizes the FDA Commissioner to regulate the distribution of products. Congress could consider whether to follow one of these two approaches or something completely new. There are various factors relevant to that decision. One things that is indisputable is that Cannabis is safer than alcohol and tobacco and the fact that we still are trying to regulate it, at the state level, like plutonium is still very troubling.
On a final note, opponents of marijuana legalization point to the lack of information on the long term effects of marijuana usage as perhaps the most significant barrier toward policy reform. This circular argument is beyond tiring and openly flawed. The scientists and medical professionals have been hesitant to conduct those studies because of the drug’s negative public perception and its current legal status. Until the U.S. government is able to take an unbiased look at marijuana, foregoing the decades of misleading and inaccurate propaganda, scientists will continue to be reluctant to conduct the very studies opponents are clamoring for.