Marijuana Legalization: State Laws Matter Little to the Feds

Though it may appear on the surface that states are moving progressively forward on marijuana laws, take another look. President Obama clearly explains federal law must change to end marijuana arrests and incarcerations in states.

In an interview with Barbara Walters, Obama said, “This is a tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law.”

Right now there are 18 states that have legalized medical marijuana states plus Washington, D.C. Two states — Colorado and Washington — have now passed recreational use of marijuana laws. Furthermore, “Bills are already slated to be introduced in states such as Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Texas – with many more to be introduced in the coming weeks.”  

But that doesn’t necessarily mean if you are caught in possession of marijuana you won’t go to jail — because federal law still trumps state law. Procon.org explains:

“Several states with legal medical marijuana have received letters from their respective United States Attorneys offices explaining that marijuana is a Schedule I substance and that the federal government considers growing, distribution, or possession of marijuana to be a federal crime regardless of the state laws. These letters have caused some states to delay or alter implementation of their medical marijuana programs.”

Obama’s message couldn’t be clearer. State law does not matter. If this country wants the federal government to leave the states alone, the laws will need to be changed at the federal level. In other words, someone in Congress needs to re-introduce an amendment like the late HR 2306, which died in committee with only 20 co-sponsors, and which would have removed marijuana from the list of Schedule I drugs. Reintroducing a like bill and passing such legislation could prevent the federal government to prosecute marijuana laws.

But don’t think such a law at the federal level is going to be easy. 

There is much to be said for money saved and future revenues that could be raised by the decriminalization and taxation of marijuana. Few people know about grants such as the Byrne Competitive Grant and the federal HIDTA funding that use marijuana arrest numbers for communities to qualify for police funding at state and local levels. This federal funding is why many officials want to keep marijuana illegal. The more arrests, the more money. Perhaps in this time of budget cuts, it would be smart to de-fund such federal grants.

If the majority of marijuana states rights supporters expect to have change, they must have their wishes heard by their people in Washington. The only way to do that is to, write, call, or email them and tell them you want them to support federal legislation which removes marijuana from the federal list of Schedule I narcotic drugs.

Obama has made it very clear, when it comes to marijuana, federal law trumps state law every time.