After the first year of having legal marijuana in Colorado and Washington, there are many different legislative movements pertaining to the substance across the United States. Recently, two congressmen proposed bills that would legalize marijuana at the federal level. These new actions are supported by the success of the implementation of legal, recreational marijuana in two states and movement towards more legalization of recreational and medical marijuana across the country.
Legalization of Marijuana on a Federal Level
On March 10, 2015, two senators introduced two separate bills that, if passed, would effectively make marijuana legal on a federal level. Colorado representative Jared Polis introduced the Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol Act. This act proposes that marijuana should not be regulated as a controlled drug substance, but instead, regulated similarly to alcohol. This would take away marijuana regulation from the DEA and give the responsibility to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The second act proposed by Oregon representative Earl Blumenauer is the Marijuana Tax Revenue Act. This act moves to impose a federal excise tax on regulated marijuana. Although it is a deterrent for consumers who already pay extensive tax rates, it is incentive for politicians to proceed with federal legalization. An important fact to note is that these acts will not automatically make marijuana legal in all states and, if a state chooses to do so, they can still enact their own, individual prohibitions of the substance.
These two acts follow the immense success of the “experimental” introduction of legal, recreational marijuana in four states (Colorado, Washington, Oregon & Alaska) along with the legalization of medical marijuana in 23 states. A main concern addressed with these acts is that a change in administration in a year and a half could affect the states that have passed laws to legalize marijuana. So far the Obama administration has allowed states to pass acts to legalize it without persecuting them based on the federal law. When the administration changes, it could choose to change the persecution standards.
Polis issued this statement:
“While President Obama and the Justice Department have allowed the will of voters in states like Colorado and 22 other jurisdictions to move forward, small business owners, medical marijuana patients, and others who follow state laws still live with the fear that a new administration — or this one — could reverse course and turn them into criminals.”
The other main issues addressed with these acts is that the federal government is missing out on immense tax revenue from marijuana and the absence of federal aid in the appropriate regulation of this substance. According to Polis, there are more than 213 million people that live in a state or jurisdiction that allows some form of legal use of marijuana. This is an immense amount of people and areas that could benefit from federal regulation. According to NerdWallet, this is how much each state could make from the legalization of marijuana through taxation by the federal government.
Representative Blumenauer had two, very important observations about marijuana legality and regulation:
“It is time for us to replace the failed prohibition with a regulatory system that works and let states and municipalities decide for themselves if they want, or don’t want, to have legal marijuana within their borders.”
“As more states move to legalize marijuana as Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Alaska have done,” Blumenauer added, “it’s imperative the federal government become a full partner in building a workable and safe framework.”
Why This Should Happen
The two states that have been the guinea pigs for legalization have proved that these policies work and are good for the state and their economies. Polis believes that over the last year, Colorado has demonstrated that regulating marijuana like alcohol takes money away from criminals and cartels, grows the economy and keeps marijuana out of the hands of children.
A recent study published has proven that marijuana is safer than alcohol or tobacco. The graph below details the results from the test; marijuana was proven to be 114 times less deadly than alcohol compared to the lethal doses of a given substance with the amount that a typical person uses (or socially).
Most experts say that there has never been a documented death as a result of an overdose from marijuana, proving marijuana to be the only drug studied that posed a low mortality risk to its users.
By legalizing marijuana, it turned Colorado’s once tightly regulated medical marijuana industry into a more tightly regulated retail industry. It has resulted in the amount of marijuana possession charges in Colorado to fall below 2,500 in 2014 compared to around 30,000 in 2010. Further, NIBRS data showed that there has been a 41 percent decrease in all drug arrests in Colorado. As of October of 2014, Colorado brought in more than 40 million dollars in marijuana taxes – the bulk of which go to youth prevention efforts focused on marijuana and overall mental health, along with education in general. There is also a strong argument that this legalization fights the war on drugs in a more effective manner, by taking away the demand for illegal marijuana.
Here is a video from a Colorado policeman detailing how the legalization has not adversely affected the state over the last year.
Why Shouldn’t this Happen?
Although there are many benefits to the legalization of marijuana, there are some drawbacks to the legal implementation of this substance. First, there have been a few notable health side effects to the legalization of marijuana. The University of Colorado burn unit stated that they have seen an increase in hospitalizations for burns resulting from flash fires that occur when someone is trying to extract THC using butane. Also, Denver-area hospitals and state poison control service have seen 14 cases of marijuana intoxication in children. The cause of this is primarily edibles. Edibles are food substances, like rice Krispy treats, lollypops, drinks, butter and others, that contain THC. Some children have mistaken a THC treat for a normal one and accidently ingested it.
Further, chronic marijuana use has been linked by some researchers to lung problems, dependence and early onset psychosis. There is also considerable concern over the impact of marijuana use on the developing adolescent brain. One study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that regular marijuana users lost an average of six IQ points by adulthood.
Recently a somewhat comical reason to not legalize marijuana in Utah has surfaced: high bunnies. They are currently considering a law that would allow patients with certain debilitating conditions to be treated with edible forms of marijuana. An agent from the DEA stated in a hearing, that the state’s wildlife could “cultivate a taste” for the plant, lose their fear of humans and be high much of the time. Although high rabbits would be interesting, it is no more a reason to continue prohibition of the substance than squirrels getting drunk off of fermented apples is a reason to outlaw alcohol.
Finally, this legalization is affecting other areas and countries that border the United States. Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming that Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana is unconstitutional under federal law. Because marijuana is still illegal under federal law, state legalization could possibly be seen as unconstitutional because it conflicts with federal law. Colorado Attorney General John Suthers responded to this suit with, “It appears the plaintiffs’ primary grievance stems from non-enforcement of federal laws regarding marijuana, as opposed to choices made by the voters of Colorado. We believe this suit is without merit and we will vigorously defend against it in the U.S. Supreme Court.” There have also been issues raised with Washington’s legal marijuana affecting British Colombia, Canada.
In my opinion, federally legalizing marijuana can only help America. There are many benefits to being able to legally obtain marijuana, the most important of which, having the ability to obtain safe marijuana. Legalization helps crime rates decrease; devotes resources to more important issues and decreases organized crime. In most areas of the United States people consume marijuana whether it is legal or not, so I see no issue with implementing safe, federal regulation across the country.
For an update on the Oklahoma and Nebraska lawsuit against Colorado check out this new post.