Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, February 25, 2019

Perhaps not realizing federal law imposes prohibition, commentary urges someone to "implement a two-year moratorium on further legalization and commercialization of marijuana"

Download (7)This notable new Hill commentary authored by psychiatrist Mitchell Rosenthal, headlined "To ensure public health and safety, impose a two-year moratorium on marijuana legalization," is somewhat sensible as a matter of public policy and is somewhat clueless in light of modern legal realities.  Here are excerpts:

Marijuana legalization is gaining momentum across the country, backed by supportive public opinion, politicians, Wall Street investors and the increasingly influential for–profit cannabis industry.  By 2025, the legal U.S. marijuana market could be a roughly $50 billion business as a cornucopia of cannabis-based products become easily available in shops and online.

But in the rush to legalize marijuana, we are not taking adequate precautions and lack comprehensive and conclusive scientific evidence about what the impact might be.  In today’s largely unregulated environment, for example, marijuana marketers can seemingly tout the purported benefits of pot to relieve anxiety and aches and pains and even treat Alzheimer’s disease, without any oversight, regulation or recourse for disappointed users.

Consumers would be better served if we first implement a two-year moratorium on further legalization to ascertain the potential risks and possible benefits of marijuana. Under the current haphazard laws and rules adopted by states that have legalized, we are simply not able to ensure public health and safety as marijuana becomes mainstream.

Pausing the runaway train of legalization would provide the opportunity to study the impact so far on health and social behavior in legalized states, as well as in Canada, which legalized last year.   We would want a definitive understanding of the effect pot has on everything from driving impairment to workplace performance and learning development in young people....

As a psychiatrist who has treated substance abusers for decades, I understand that calling for a legalization slowdown might suggest a return to the fear-filled Reefer Madness past.  But it is more about being responsible, especially as many clinical studies indicate that pot is not as benign as many would like to believe and can be addictive as well as potentially harmful to the developing teenage brain.

Clearly, the same sensible precautions required of any new drug or food product should also apply to marijuana.  Warning labels, dosage recommendations and information about possible side effects, interactions and potency levels are critical for consumer safety, along with education programs and outreach....

To safeguard public health, we need clarity and consistent guidelines on a federal level for the legalization and commercialization of marijuana.  Questions abound about the appropriate age of consumption, where cannabis should be located — hopefully not near schools and parks and playgrounds — and whether marijuana is an effective treatment for opioid addiction, as many claim.

A two-year moratorium on marijuana legalization would enable us to answer many of these questions and lead to practical and enforceable guidelines based on scientific evidence, not the hyped claims of pot marketers.  Consumers — especially parents — have the right and the need to know.

Because this commentary speaks of the need for "clarity and consistent guidelines on a federal level for the legalization and commercialization of marijuana," I presume it is imagining the federal government as the legal entity to "implement a two-year moratorium on further legalization and commercialization of marijuana."  But, of course, federal law right now has long-standing and on-going complete prohibition on legalization and commercialization of marijuana.  That legal fact has not stopped "marijuana legalization is gaining momentum across the country" because prohibition cannot easily be enforced effectively against states interested in pursuing reforms.

Perhaps this commentary means to suggest (and would be more reasonable to suggest) that all states considering legalization sit tight for two years to provide more time and "opportunity to study the impact so far on health and social behavior in legalized states."  But legalization has been a reality in some form in California for more than two decades and in modern forms in Colorado and Washington for five years.  It seems highly unlikely that we will have "comprehensive and conclusive scientific evidence about what the impact might be" of legalization by early 2021.  Because it may take decades to reach "definitive understanding of the effect pot has on everything from driving impairment to workplace performance and learning development in young people," I am not sure just a two-year pause would be all that productive even if it were some how legally achievable.

That all said, this commentary is not misguided in identifying a range of issues that states should consider with respect to public health and safety in the reform of marijuana prohibition, and especially in (indirectly) suggesting that the federal government play a more active and productive role as states continue to move forward with reforms.  I think the Obama Administration was remiss when failing to set up a task force or study group on these critical health and safety issues when modern state marijuana reforms were heating up, and the Trump Administration also seems content to continue to ignore these issues all while Congress cannot itself move forward on any production reforms at the federal level.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2019/02/perhaps-not-realizing-federal-law-imposes-prohibition-commentary-urges-someone-to-implement-a-two-ye.html

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