Legalization of marijuana in regards to State and Federal Law

The past two weeks this group has walked about one hundred miles on the streets of Washington, DC. One thing that was pertinent when we walked around was the smell of marijuana. In 2015, the District of Columbia instated Initiative 71, which allows individuals over the age of twenty-one to possess two ounces or less of marijuana.  However, distribution and marketing of marijuana is strictly prohibited, and individuals can face jail time if they are found to be noncompliant with this law. Washington, DC was not the first state to legalize marijuana, in 2012 Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize the possession and cultivation of marijuana. These two states diverted from Federal Law and allowed individuals to use marijuana for recreational use. John Hudak, deputy director of the center for effective public management and senior fellow at The Brookings Institute, explained the prior history regarding marijuana and how in today’s society it has become a controversial public policy.

Currently, under Federal Law, marijuana is categorized as a Schedule 1 drug. According to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), marijuana has a high potential for abuse and a lack of safety for use under medical supervision. Other substances that are considered Schedule 1 drugs include heroin, peyote, and ecstasy. A ballot measure was conducted so that Amendment 64 was passed under the Colorado State Constitution to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. This Amendment specifically defied federal law. Explicitly, the 10th amendment states that powers that are not strictly given to the Federal government in the United States Constitution and are not restricted to the States can then be granted to the States. This amendment allows the Federal government and state governments to share power, so neither the state or federal government is more powerful than the other, they essentially coincide. Since then ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Thirteen states have since decriminalized marijuana.

To combat this dilemma, in 2013 Obama ended the Cole Amendment. This Amendment said that as long as individuals are following state laws in regard to marijuana use then they will not prosecute them. Hudak asserted that around the 1990s, public support for marijuana was at an all-time low. Hudak found this quite fascinating, during this time, the AIDS crisis was also at one of its peaks. Individuals that were suffering in the ending stages of AIDs would use marijuana to receive pain relief. Today, public support for the legalization of marijuana is about 68%. Hudak attributed this to a generational replacement, today about 80-85% of Millennials endorse the legalization of marijuana. Therefore, four out of five individuals stand behind the effort. While individuals between the ages of 60-65, only about 30-35% of them support it, so one out of three people. Individuals that supported the legalization of marijuana also called for it to be regulated said, Hudak. Therefore, when marijuana was legalized, the government implemented a seed to sale type system. This means that the plant is tagged and tracked through the growing process all the way to the sale process. This allows them to keep track of the amount of marijuana sold, how much is sold, and if anything goes wrong with the plant they can track it back to the seller.

On that note, there are many senators and representatives that support the legalization of marijuana at a federal level. On one of our site visits on Wednesday, we had the opportunity to meet with Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey. He talked about his efforts with introducing the Marijuana Justice Act. This act would end the restriction on marijuana, support racial justice, and help those that were affected by the war on drugs. This act would lower the harm to young people and people of color primarily targeted for the criminalization of marijuana. When marijuana is decriminalized, it can increase the level of violence and corruption in society and it does not stop individuals from getting possession of it. Secondly, Hudak noted that legalizing marijuana would allow the nation and states to make a huge profit by regulating tax revenue from sales. This will then, in turn, create jobs instead of individuals selling it off the streets while ensuring  consumer safety because there will be a certain quality standard for marijuana.

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