Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Should we expect any major federal marijuana reform developments in 2016?

ImagesThe question in the title of this post is prompted in part by the fact that, as highlighted in this recent post, lots of folks (myself included) expect 2016 to be a big year in the marijuana reform arena largely because many states will be seriously considering, legislatively and/or through voter initiatives, full legalization of marijuana for recreational use.  In addition, 2016 could also include major "on the ground" developments in newer recreational states like Alaska and Oregon and in newer medical states like Illinois and Maryland and New York.

But while 2016 could prove historic for marijuana reform on the state level, I am inclined to predict that this year could well be a huge nothingburger on the federal front.  Absent some unexpected developments, I would be shocked if an essentially lame-duck President Obama or his Department of Justice will see any reason to significantly alter its present Cole-memo, leave-the-states-mostly-alone prosecutorial policies.  And though there are lots of marijuana reform proposals and bills kicking around Capitol Hill, I have no reason to believe or expect any leaders in either the House of the Senate have any real interest in moving any marijuana bills forward (or even having hearings on the topic).  

Of course, if the Supreme Court were to take up for review on the merits the lawsuit brought by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado, then the federal judiciary would quickly become the focal point for possible federal developments.  But, as noted here by Rob Mikos, the US Solicitor General of the Department of Justice urged SCOTUS not to take up this case.  And even if SCOTUS were to decided to consider this suit on the merits, I am not sure the Court would come out with a major ruling in this quirky "original suit" setting in 2016.

But perhaps, living as I do way outside the Beltway, perhaps I am reading the tea leaves wrong about the prospect of some notable federal marijuana reform developments in 2016.  Maybe issues related to federal prohibition will become a topic of discussion on the Prez campaign trail, especially if reform-friendly places out west like Arizona, Colorado and Nevada start looking like major swing states.  And maybe I am missing some other possible development entirely.  For that reason, I would love to hear from readers, in the comments or via e-mail, about whether they expect any noteworthy marijuana reform developments on the federal front in 2016.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2016/01/should-we-expect-any-major-federal-marijuana-reform-developments-in-2016.html

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