Tuesday, October 30, 2018
OPINION: State-legalized marijuana businesses probably need not fear federal prosecution, but that "probably" should be more clear
States with legal marijuana cannot have complete confidence in the legitimacy of their businesses because marijuana remains federally illegal. Cannabis in the U.S. is a Schedule 1 drug, which has a very specific meaning according to the DEA website.
Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Some examples of Schedule I drugs are:
heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana (cannabis), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote
Cannabis is explicitly illegal on the federal level to this day, despite state efforts to legalize marijuana locally. Adding further confusion to the mix, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has not made it clear whether legal marijuana business owners will be prosecuted.
Dispensaries can take small solace in the apparent lack of Congressional or presidential support for Sessions. In a Wall Street Journal article, authors Sadie Gurman and Natalie Andrews noted that Sessions did not seem to have the backing of the president or Congress behind his desires to crack down on states with legal marijuana:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed to use federal law to get tough on marijuana, announcing in January he was ending Obama-era protections for the nascent pot industry in states where it is legal. Six months into his mission, he is largely going it alone.
Mr. Sessions’ own prosecutors have yet to bring federal charges against pot businesses that are abiding by state law. And fellow Republicans in Congress, with support from President Donald Trump, are promoting several bills that would protect or even expand the legal pot trade.
The article went on to explain that Sessions told members of Congress that the Justice Department is now emphasizing the pursuit of more dangerous drugs.
And well they should -- by many measures, cannabis is a far less dangerous drug than even legal alternatives like alcohol and tobacco. Smoking tobacco has been linked to lung cancer, and drinking too much alcohol can cause alcohol poisoning and even death.
Yet it is functionally impossible to overdose on the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, THC, and medicines with CBD oil have been successfully used to treat patients suffering from seizures. Perhaps due to the fact that alcohol and tobacco have been accepted and abundant for so long, they remain legal and well regulated, as opposed to cannabis.
Although unlikely, at any point, federal agents could bring suit against a state's legal marijuana businesses and arrest the people running it. This should not be the case because it leaves marijuana businesses in an uncertain place. If federal agents are not going to enforce federal marijuana law, perhaps the law should at least be altered, or abolished.
Keeping marijuana illegal does not benefit society overall. It results in unnecessary prison sentences for nonviolent offenders charged merely with small scale possession. It inhibits research into medical applications.
Some argue that legal marijuana might lead to lower productivity and differences in brain development for young children, but such detriments are far outweighed by other factors at play. Those factors include huge potential for tax revenue generation; potential medical treatments for nausea, loss of appetite, seizures, and pain medication; and focusing of resources toward other larger problems like the opioid epidemic.
Marijuana legalization is an incredibly complex process, in which countless factors are at play and there is no simple solution for everyone. Things would be much simpler, though, if the federal government stepped up in favor of legalization, whether for medical or recreational marijuana. Even if the government actually did start cracking down on legal marijuana businesses, that might be preferable to this Sword of Damocles hanging over the head of every pot business owner, held up by just a single thread.
-- Alex Bennett