Leave Marijuana Policy to the States
A customer shops for marijuana at the MedMen store in West Hollywood, Calif., January 2, 2018. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)A new bill would reconcile federal law with reality on the ground.
In the nine states where recreational marijuana is legal, industrial-scale growers distribute huge quantities of weed to product manufacturers, dispensaries are as common as banks in strip malls, and anyone over 21 can buy weed in all sorts of forms — edibles, CBD oils, cookies that contain ten milligrams of THC apiece, a good old-fashioned joint.
And everyone involved is breaking federal law. The possession, manufacture, and distribution of marijuana violates the Controlled Substances Act, which defines the drug as a Schedule I substance, the most severe level of classification. The prohibition doesn’t even allow an exception for medical use, which another 20 states have legalized.
With the Marijuana STATES Act, a bill that amends the Controlled Substances Act so that it applies only when state law applies as well, lawmakers are trying to change that.
Thus far, legal weed has flourished only because federal law hasn’t been enforced. The medical-marijuana business, still small, been protected for years by a rider to appropriations bills that bars federal money from funding their prosecution. Recreational-pot businesses, meanwhile, are protected mainly by the executive branch’s unwillingness to treat them as though they were Mexican cartels.
Under the Obama administration, Department of Justice policy was defined by the “Cole Memo,” which directed federal prosecutors to deprioritize marijuana in states where it was legal. That represented an attempt to change the law by executive fiat, and the Trump DOJ, led by unreconstructed drug warrior Jeff Sessions, rescinded the memo on those grounds. But while Sessions made noise early on about ramping up enforcement, legal-weed states have yet to see a crackdown.