Wednesday 21 November 2012

Legalization of Marijuana: Can individual states in the US do it?  (part 1)

The white background behind the text is merely an anomaly in the printing.

Voters in Colorado and Washington states recently voted their approval on measures that would legalize the sale of marijuana to adults, without the need for a doctor's prescription. Slightly over 53 percent of voters approved Referendum 64 in Colorado, which legalized casual use of the drug. It passed in Washington State by a similar margin. NBC News reported that 17 states and the District of Columbia already have laws allowing for the medical use of marijuana, according to the National Council of Legislatures.

So far, states that have approved the use of medical marijuana have walked a fine line with US federal laws that still prohibit the sale of marijuana under any circumstances. The legalization of non-medical use of marijuana in these two states is expected to increase that tension between local and federal laws.

Some of the states voted marijuana laws down. Oregon voters voted against legalizing the recreational use of the drug while voters in Arkansas voted not to allow marijuana use for medical purposes. Massachusetts voters on the other hand approved its use for medical purposes.

The Controlled Substances Act, a federal law, prohibits the possession and sale of marijuana, and actually going so far as to classify it as a Schedule 1 drug, placing it alongside cocaine, LSD and heroin. Federal laws such as the one with respect to marijuana currently supersedes those made in a US state and even approved by the voters themselves.  

At present, the U.S. government claims the right to, and it currently exercises that right to criminalize the growing, selling and possession of marijuana in all of the states. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this federal right in two separate court cases; U.S. v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative, a case heard in 2001 which overturned California proposition 215 which, in 1996, legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. The second case was; Gonzales v. Raich, which again upheld the right of the federal government to ban marijuana use in all states of the US, a case which was heard in 2005.

The question on everyone’s mind is, “Will the federal Department of Justice enforce existing federal drug laws with respect to the use of marijuana for non-medical and medical use?” More importantly, “Will the Supreme Court of the United States decide in favour of the individual states that choose to authorize the growing, selling and possession  of marijuana?”

Even before President Obama was re-elected to a second term, he led some to think he would treat marijuana laws similar to the Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The White House has already informed the Department of Justice that the president may not be in favour of enforcing laws governing the use of recreational marijuana use, thus allowing the states to pass and enforce their own drug laws.

If such changes were made in the current Controlled Substances Act, there would be those who oppose it and the matter could end up before the Supreme Court of the United States for a final disposition.

Therefore, the court would have four important issues to consider. The first being whether or not the minority of voters who voted against the sale of recreational marijuana is sufficient in numbers to prohibit the use of it for recreational use. Secondly, laws made at the state level cannot override laws and ordinances on the city and county level so why can’t laws made at the state level supersede laws made at the federal laws as it relates to the welfare of its own citizens? Thirdly, will marijuana be permitted to be produced by anyone? And finally, will the use of recreational marihuana have a serious intoxicating effect on motorists driving their vehicles.

Other factors the court will have to consider are; how shops in Colorado and Washington will obtain the product for sale. Will they have to grow their own supply or will they be allow to have it shipped in from other states or even other countries such as Mexico?

If the court approves the use of recreational marijuana, will the individual state authorities for example permit those 21 years of age or and older to purchase any amount of marijuana at any one time at regulated retail stores since possession of the drug would be legal? Will they permit the users of the drug the right to smoke it in public and will adults be able to grow as many marijuana plants they wish in their own home or on their own property?

Legal scholars and law enforcement officials are conflicted by these laws if they are passed. Some say that the current marijuana laws do not deter young adults and teens from using the drug; however prosecution of those found in possession of this illicit drug can have damaging and long-lasting effects on a person's life. In fact, a very large segment of those currently in jail are incarcerated because of having been found by the police to be in possession of marijuana. This is costing millions and millions of dollars in police enforcement, court costs and costs related to the incarceration of hundreds upon hundreds of people—money that could be put to better use for other purposes.

What I find will be most interesting is if recreational use of marijuana is legalized in the United States, tobacco manufacturers will jump at the opportunity to capitalize on the manufacturing of marijuana cigarettes.

Since marijuana doesn’t have all those poisonous substances found in tobacco cigarettes, I can just see the advertising that will flash across our TV screens, “If you want to bring yourself into a state of ecstasy, then try our Marumba Marijuana cigarettes, made specially from the finest Mexican plants and guaranteed to bring you into a state of excitement that you will always remember.” Hey. If you think that kind of commercial isn’t possible, those of you who are old enough like I am will remember when one tobacco manufacturer showed a doctor with one of their cigarettes in his hand and the caption read, “More doctors smoke Camels than any other.”  Here was a really fascinating ad. “For more pure pleasure, have a Camel!”

The final conclusion of this convoluted issue is going to be really interesting.

In another article I will write for you in the upcoming weeks or so will delve into the pros and cons of recreational marijuana being legalized.


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