On June 1st, 2015 Governor Greg Abbot (R, Texas) signed the “Compassionate Use Act” Offering what he said would be “healing and hope for children who are afflicted by relentless seizures caused by epilepsy. The “Compassionate Use Act” established the first medical marijuana program in Texas. That same year Georgia and Tennessee also legalized the use of medical marijuana in some form.
At the date of writing, there are currently twenty-six states with full medical marijuana programs, and thirty-eight states that allow for some use of medical marijuana. With some much activity on the state level, and victories easier to achieve on the state level, many wonder why there is a need to worry about reforming the federal government’s marijuana laws. Unfortunately, state marijuana reform is limited; and hangs precariously in the political balance.
State Marijuana Reform, a Patchwork
Like almost all things government, change is easier to achieve the closer that government is to you. Many have found great success on the state level legalizing medical marijuana, decriminalizing possession, legalizing industrial hemp, and even legalizing recreational marijuana. However, while many find success in reforming their state laws, rarely do they find the same levels of success.
Many states have medical marijuana programs that simply do not function do to overregulation. Many programs such as New Jersey, Texas, New Hampshire, Montana, and Maryland have few qualifying conditions, and mandate obstructive regulation on growing and selling that make these programs not economically viable. Other states, like Georgia and Alabama have medical programs that don’t actually allow for in state cultivation of marijuana, effectively forcing its medical patience to violate federal drug trafficking laws to use their medicine legally.
Decriminalization efforts also have a widely varied success record, with some states like Oregon and Washington have successfully begun the process of expunging all of its state marijuana convictions, while other states like California, and Indiana have rejected measures to decriminalize and expunge records.
Even states that have approved recreational marijuana have vastly different regulatory, safety, testing, taxing and licensing guidelines. This has lead to vastly different economic conditions for growers and sellers which breed uncertainty in the young industry.
What’s more, while some can find relatively easy success in their state through ballot measures, and referendums, many states are not as lucky. Most of the states that have yet to reform their marijuana laws lack any direct access to the ballot, meaning reform can only come through the legislature. Unfortunately, in such a partisan time of unmovable ideology, some state legislatures are nearly impossible to pursue reform thorough. Other states have legislatures that last only month every two years, severely impeding the ability to seek reform.
The Need for Federal Reform and Regulation
With such disparate outcomes, and the patchwork of disjointed medical and recreational regulations, the need for federal reform is urgent. So far the Federal government has allowed states to act as the “laboratories of democracy” on the marijuana issue. So far, there has been nothing but success.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has issued simple guidelines for states to follow when they legalize marijuana. According to the new directive, federal authorities still will prosecute individuals or entities involved in: The distribution of marijuana to minors, Directing revenue from marijuana sales to gangs and cartels, Diverting marijuana from states where it is legal to other states where there are no laws allowing for marijuana use, Using legal sales as cover for trafficking operations, Using violence and or firearms in marijuana cultivation and distribution, Driving under the influence of marijuana, Growing marijuana on public lands, and Possessing marijuana or using on federal property. These guidelines however, are not law. With the change of leadership set to hit the DOJ in 2017, these guidelines can change or disperse al together.
Congress has only acted to cut funding to the DOJ and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) for prosecuting and raiding state medical marijuana programs. These cuts are only temporary and require continual passage in contentious spending bills. Unfortunately, no such protection exist for recreational programs. This means that regardless of the legal state of marijuana, the Feds can, and may very well raid your business and confiscate your business leaving you no recourse do to its federal status.
What’s more, medical marijuana is currently treated in a completely unique and bizarre way compared to all other medicines. No other drug has such varying status between states. For example, states do not set the individual qualifying conditions for any other drug. If you are prescribed Prozac in one state, move to another state, regardless of your qualifying conditions, you will be able to get it. Marijuana is treated differently. A cancer patient in California would be denied and arrested for using their medicine in Texas where the only qualifying condition is epilepsy.
Federal regulation would fix the disparity between states and allow patience to move freely across the nation without fear of losing their medicine.
The Limit of State Reform
While some may have found great success on the state level, state marijuana reform only goes so far and only happens for some people. Many lack the ability to spur legislative reform in their state and continue to suffer. States often have vastly different programs and regulations which lead to confusion and arbitrary restrictions on movement. Criminal justice reform has only graced a few states and others are in desperate need. State reform, while easier to pursue is limited and ends at the border. Millions of Americans still suffer under prohibition and only federal reform can offer a real solution.
Written by Hunter White
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