The US federal government defines marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. That means that even though it offers some medical value, there is a high potential for abuse. Therefore, the drug has strong regulatory restrictions on its research, supply, and access.
But lawmakers and policymakers are working to change that.
However, the problem is that the core of US drug policy is complicated and, sometimes, confusing. For example, even though the federal government strictly prohibits marijuana, several states say the drug is legal.
For decades, legalization advocates have been lobbying legislators in Congress to reschedule marijuana.
What Is Clarence Thomas Saying?
In his opinion, the federal government’s current prohibition of marijuana seems to be out of date.
This statement comes after the court declined to hear the appeal of a medical marijuana dispensary in Colorado. It was denied federal tax breaks. The judge based his decision on a 2005 Supreme Court ruling – Gonzales v. Raich.
Justice Thomas’s view is that this ruling may be useless from a legal standpoint.
However, this questions whether the Raich decision to uphold federal power and prohibit all marijuana activity is still good law. After all, Thomas claims that federal policies over the past 16 years have greatly ‘undermined its reasoning.’
Even now, the federal government has a half-in, half-out regime that tolerates yet forbids the use of marijuana.
He also wrote that the intrastate prohibition of marijuana use and cultivation might “no longer be necessary or proper” to uphold the federal government’s piecemeal approach.
The Government Has Sent Mixed Signals
But on a federal level, it is still illegal.
Moreover, the tax law does not allow businesses dealing with the cultivation, distribution, manufacture, or selling of marijuana to deduct their business expenses.
But the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued memorandums in 2009 and 2013 against intruding on state legalization schemes or prosecuting anyone who complies with state law. In fact, in 2009, Congress allowed Washington D. C.’s government to decriminalize medical marijuana.
Furthermore, since 2015, Congress has prohibited the DOJ from spending funds to prevent states’ implementation of their medical marijuana laws. So it may appear that the Government is retreating from absolutely banning cannabis.
Timeline of US Marijuana Reform
To help you get an idea about what’s happening with marijuana laws, here’s a timeline of some of the major developments.
Every state passed a law restricting the possession of marijuana. Medicines containing marijuana were no longer available over the counter.
The Marihuana Tax Act limited the use of marijuana for medical purposes and prohibited all non-medical use. As regulatory restrictions, doctors prescribing marijuana were burdened with fees.
The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act was established. Five categories were created, Schedule I to V, where the first one was the strictest classification. Marijuana was a Schedule I drug.
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Officials enforced federal laws against state-operated medical marijuana cultivators and patients. In the Raich v. Gonzales case, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the federal government, signaling that the federal law can be enforced in states with the already legalized medical use of marijuana.
Attorney General Eric Holder stated only medical marijuana providers that violated both federal and state laws could be prosecuted. Deputy Attorney General David Ogden issued guidelines for federal enforcement, affirming the hands-off approach for state-legal medical marijuana activities.
The US Department of Justice set guidelines for marijuana enforcement efforts. Officials were to prioritize preventing the:
- Distribution of marijuana to minors
- Use of marijuana revenue to fund criminal enterprises, gangs, or cartels
- Out-of-state transport of marijuana from where it’s legal to others where it is illegal
- Use of legal marijuana sales as a cover for illegal activity
- Use of firearms in growing or distributing marijuana
- Adverse health consequences associated with marijuana use, including drugged driving
- Growing marijuana on public property
- Use and possession of marijuana on federal property
The Justice Department prohibited the spending of funds on the implementation of state medical marijuana laws.
The House Judiciary Committee passed the MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act).
The US House of Representatives voted in favor of the MORE Act (228-164 vote).
What Will Be the Effects of Thomas’s Opinion
At the moment, none of Justice Thomas’s fellow Justices commented on his statement. So it’s not clear whether others in the Supreme Court are also inclined to reconsider Raich.
But this is the beginning.
It is possible that the statement issued by Justice Thomas could fuel lower court discussion on the matter. And Raich may be reconsidered any time in the future. More importantly, it’s only a matter of time before legislators see more engagement from the Supreme Court about marijuana reform issues.
So it’s clear that the federal marijuana prohibition constitutions function in a challenging way.
Erik Altieri, the Executive Director of NORML, spoke up about the matter. He says that Justice Thomas’s remarks signify that it’s time for Congress to end the prohibition of marijuana. In fact, the current federal ban on the drug complicates the ability of states to regulate and oversee state-legal cannabis businesses successfully.
Moreover, he believes that Thomas’s statement mirrors the sentiments of the vast majority of the American public.
The sentiment around marijuana prohibition is changing. But it’s not only the consumers or marijuana legalization advocates that are promoting the drug into the mainstream. Things are happening even at the upper legislative level.
Recently, a conservative US Supreme Court justice voiced his opinions. He believes that the prohibition may no longer be necessary.
This could be the end of a decades-long campaign to end cannabis prohibition at the federal level.
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