States Rights or Federal Supremacy Marijuana Legalization

Marijuana regulations in the United States have not changed since the days of Reefer Madness, until now. Marijuana has been approved for medicinal use in 18 states and the District of Columbia. In spite of dire warnings from the incarceration/drug treatment cartel, the world did not come to a crashing end.

There are scattered examples of abuse and the approaches to regulation have often been an exercise in trial and error. In Colorado, drafting the regulations was delayed due to intransigence on the part of an anti-drug Attorney General. In spite of all the roadblocks, the regulations went into effect and were fine-tuned.

The sky did not fall and the Rocky Mountains did not tumble into the sea. In the fall of 2012, full legalization measures were on the ballot in two states. Voters in the state of Washington and the state of Colorado overwhelmingly approved legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana. The proposals would regulate the consumption of marijuana in much the same way as alcohol is currently regulated.

Public consumption and operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence would be punishable offenses. Sales are to be taxed and regulated through the same mechanism as is currently used for alcohol. The Colorado Assembly, fresh from a bruising battle on firearms regulation, has accepted the will of the voters.

This time, regulations will not fall behind the curve of progress. At a time when states are strapped for resources and legislators are loathe to raise taxes, legal marijuana represents a brand new source of revenue from sin taxes which, in the case of Colorado, may approach a rate of 25%.     

The strongest argument presented against legalization has been that marijuana, even medicinal marijuana, remains illegal under federal law. The concern is that the Justice Department will intervene in the affairs of the state and claim that the states do not have jurisdiction in these issues due to the supremacy clause. This is a very real possibility. It would have been preferable to have the Congress revise the federal drug laws to encompass the new reality. Unfortunately, there is no appetite at the federal level for opening a discussion on revising drug policy to encompass the newest addiction research and the changing public attitudes.  

It has been next to impossible to get funding for the appropriate agencies to do current medical studies to affirm or overturn the conclusions from medical studies done in other countries. In the absence of guidance from the federal level, it is being left to the fifty states to become laboratories. As the regulations go into effect, a picture will emerge of drug use patterns in general and marijuana use specifically. There is still time for the federal government to intervene to nullify the state laws.  

Pressure is being brought on the Obama administration by former DEA officials. There is now push-back from groups opposing federal intervention. It will be interesting to see how this struggle plays out. Will the federal government allow states to experiment with legalization/regulation or will the money interests be able to pressure the Justice Department to intervene? No matter how it happens, the genie is out of the bottle and it is time for America to take a comprehensive look at drug abuse, addiction, drug crime and punishment and the social repercussions of our 1930’s drug policy.