What You Need to Know About Federal Marijuana Legalization: Best 101 Guide

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Federal marijuana legalization: good or bad? Things you should know!

The legalized marijuana industry is set to become a $40+ billion industry by 2026. The United States has seen a fair bit of turmoil regarding cannabis legalization countrywide. 

Everything from President Richard Nixon’s Controlled Substances Act in the 1970s listed marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, which was the same tier as heroin and cocaine.

There has been speculation that the effects of the plant and its usage on humans were already studied and even confirmed to be significantly less harmful than its more potent and addictive counterparts in the list. However, Nixon is said to have allegedly ignored these studies.

The result was what we now call a ‘War on Drugs,’ which has been going on for decades now.

Marijuana reform groups have popped up everywhere in the country, and the call to legalize marijuana has led to more than 60% of American adults agreeing to legalize it.

However, with multiple policy changes in the last few decades, federal cannabis legalization, both medical and recreational, seems like a distant goal.

20981252 marijuana background
by eskymaks / unlimphotos

In 2021, the United States has seen a wave of legalization bills and laws by state lawmakers, all pointing towards a possible decade of cannabis reform so that the US may legalize cannabis federally at some point shortly.

Under the Biden administration, recent developments in many states, including New Mexico, New York, Virginia, Louisiana, and New Jersey state laws make it seem like there may be hope out there after all.

The states have legalized, decriminalized, or called to legalize and decriminalize medical cannabis and recreational cannabis use in 2022, most with the strict and comprehensive regulatory framework. Many states have also pushed sales in the commercial market in the upcoming years.

Marijuana and its by-products have been in use and circulation since at least 2500 years ago; evidence of the use of cannabis was tracked down to the silk route and subsequently to ancient China as well; although mainly for spiritual and medicinal purposes.

Eventually, the plant traveled to the Americas and Europe, where it flourished; now, in modern-day, legal cannabis storefronts can get your medical cannabis products, customized buds, oils, tinctures, infused lotions, or food.

This journey was long and arduous; there have been many (still widespread) misconceptions about the drug and its uses, its addictive properties, its sale and distribution, and its long term-effects from regular use.

There is a lot of misinformation about its benefits from therapeutic and recreational use for adults, particularly non-medicative use.

Marijuana pops up a lot when the discussion around psychological and physical therapy is mentioned, specifically for people suffering from chronic illnesses and post-traumatic stress disorders; often, the ‘herb’ is claimed to be a miraculous path to recovery and rehabilitation.

If a simple plant can be so helpful to so many, why has it been villainized? And will modern western society ever see cannabis legalization on a federal level?

What is medical marijuana?

Medical marijuana is prescription-specific marijuana or related medical marijuana products used to treat ailments, most commonly, severe forms of epilepsy. Medical marijuana is legal to use in more than 2/3rds of the US and the District of Columbia.

Legalized medical marijuana can be found in many different forms and has been known to improve the condition of chemotherapy patients significantly, studies show, by reducing, nausea, vomiting, spasticity, and chronic pain.

Medical marijuana and its long-term effects are still being studied since there are special permits researchers need to learn and research.

Marijuana contains THC and CBD, two compounds known as cannabinoids, that affect the brain differently.

Medical marijuana attempts to extract these two chemicals and use their properties to help patients suffering from chronic pain, severe epilepsy, mental distress, and much more. As of 2021, 33 states in the United States have legalized medical marijuana use.

What is recreational marijuana?

Recreational marijuana uses cannabis and related products for personal pleasure and not for medical aid.

There are some things to keep in mind, though; recreational marijuana use can become a cannabis abuse disorder if an individual is compulsively using, particularly making poor financial decisions and endangering essential requirements like food, bills, housing, or clothing.

Cannabis is legally used in many states for recreational purposes; storefronts offer many forms of the product; flower buds dried from different strains, cannabis-induced oils with THC and CBD, edibles like candies, brownies, lollipops and butter, and more.

Moreover, recreational marijuana use is only termed if use is infrequent, in smaller quantities, and not driven by a compulsive desire to use. As of 2021, 18 states have legalized recreational marijuana.

Can marijuana have harmful effects?

Yes. Like any drug, cannabis can also have harmful effects. If smoked, cannabis can increase the risk of lung disorders like bronchitis.

Cannabis use also lowers blood pressure and can cause hallucinations; while these aren’t directly harmful, it can cause complications in the case of pre-existing issues like mental illnesses and

Is marijuana legal in the USA?

Yes, and no; while 18 states and Washington DC have made the adult use of cannabis for recreational and medical purposes legal, along with 37 states in the US making medicinal marijuana legal, the federal law still lists the possession, distribution, and usage (even if it’s private) of marijuana and its related products as illegal.

The answer is not that simple. The technicalities are a bit of a mess; can you possess marijuana (medicinal and recreational marijuana) in legal states without repercussion; from a federal standpoint, no.

But state law enforcement is not authorized to charge you as long as the state you live in does not have any law that prohibits its use. There’s a lot to unpack here.

State Vs. Federal Law

Suppose a state’s legal bounds legalized recreational and medical marijuana, and the law enforcement in the state is not bound to charge anyone for its consumption and distribution with a permit. How is it possible that the federal government can still consider it illegal?

This is because of what the US constitution dictates about the federal law; by default, federal law supersedes state law as it is dubbed the ‘supreme law of the land. This is called the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution (Act VI, Clause 2).

How are marijuana businesses running and that too successfully across US states like California, a place that is now international havens for the production and distribution; both medical and recreational marijuana?

This is because the Supremacy Clause has an exception that contests it; At the same time, federal marijuana use for all is very much illegal; the federal government does not have the right to police people for its use since the 10th amendment lies in place.

This gives states the power to police their citizens. So technically, a person can be federally prosecuted for the use of marijuana, medical or recreational.

However, federal marijuana prosecutions are infrequent. However, state prosecution can be avoided if legal in your state.

In many states, particularly in the last few years, many ballot initiatives to legalize cannabis across the country have taken place. A ballot initiative is a citizen-led referendum of sorts that can push a policy reform, in this case, a cannabis reform.

In 2020, the supreme court of South Dakota allowed for a ballot initiative to hear arguments for legalization. The supreme court recently struck down the initiative, leading to a fresh slate for cannabis advocates in South Dakota.

These initiatives have in the past been struck down, but regular initiatives have been said to be getting the country closer to federal legalization.

Another step in the right direction to the federal legalization of marijuana is the inclination of many governors and financial institutions to banking reform.

How federal enforcement has changed with the governments?

In 2013 under the Obama administration, the US Department of Justice announced formally that it would not interfere in the workings of the cannabis industry in any legal state.

So long as it has no connections to distribution to minors, gang funding, usage, and possession on federal lands like parks, violence, and firearm use, driving under the influence, interstate commerce, and money laundering.

Federal agencies had the right to intervene in any of these circumstances. This was a significant change in attitude since Nixon’s war on drugs stance against cannabis.

It was mainly a sigh of relief for existing and potential users of medical cannabis and related products for rehabilitation and therapy.

In 2018, this changed. Under President Donald Trump and the Republican administration, the Department of Justice withdrew the previous stance. It announced that whenever state and federal laws surrounding cannabis collide, they had a right to intervene. That year, marijuana arrests accounted for the highest of any drug arrests made in the US.

For the most part, this federal policy reversal has been to make a statement rather than be functional. Federal prosecutions for adult-use cannabis are expensive and resource-heavy otherwise, too, particularly in the case of a prosecution in a state with legalized recreational marijuana/medical marijuana.

Cannabis convictions are also a big issue for minorities, people of color, immigrants, and people with mental disabilities. The drug war has disproportionately harmed these people.

This issue also creates many problems for recreational and medical cannabis businesses. There are many hurdles these businesses are routinely subjected to; the federal prohibition of marijuana use and sale still technically categories vendors and store-owners as drug traffickers.

The cannabis industry faces many such challenges from a financial standpoint. Legalized medical marijuana shops, as well as recreational marijuana stores, cannot apply for tax deductions. However, the federal government still collects tax revenue from these businesses.

To make things worse, the legal cannabis industry faces massive federal tax bills, often paid in cash, because cannabis business owners are less likely to have banking services than other businesses have.

Many banking service providers are wary of the federal anti-laundering laws that could hold them accountable. This does not just make sale and tax payment an issue; only cash businesses are more likely to be victims of theft and violence.

Moreover, legalized recreational cannabis business owners often find it an excruciating process to approach a bank for loans.

Legalization opposers often coin the lack of research as an appropriate reason to bar finances and legal support for medical and recreational marijuana.

The fact, however, is that research is most often conducted under federal grants. These grants only allow researchers, both in universities and private labs, to adhere to federal marijuana laws.

This means that many of its effects cannot be studied, including long-term effects of medical marijuana use, the ill effects of unregulated recreational marijuana use, recreational cannabis in e-cigarette compounds, and efficient and eco-friendly cannabis farming.

These things could create a better, safer environment for the use and sale of safe adult-use cannabis. Good quality continued research can lead to marijuana legalization the right way.

Is federal cannabis legalization ever going to happen?

Mace’s Bill; expungement and decriminalization.

While the actions of both the republican and democratic governments can persuade one to conclude the parties’ polarization to support and quash legalization, don’t be deceived.

The next big thing in the wave of federal legalization of medical and recreational marijuana use comes from the republican lead state of South Carolina.

This comprehensive bill was introduced in November 2021 by Nancy Mace, a republican representative from SC, who holds a rather bipartisan stance and has been known to describe the bill as a compromise instead of a dichotomous bill that will serve a polarized purpose to any party.

This bill is unique in its approach to social equity provisions; racial equity and other forms of minority equity are all national affairs that the bill comprehensively covers.

The bill is imperfect; many issues still exist, like the possible black market sale due to high taxation. However, a chunk of the tax revenue is said to go toward beating the ongoing opioid epidemic in the US.

Mace’s bill ensures that minorities subject to ethnic and racial disparities that have been previously prosecuted more harshly for cannabis-only offenses (no DUIs or related to drug rings or cartels) be expunged.

This will encourage social equity applicants to freely and fearlessly approach more legal support and traction. Applicants may also feel less threatened when approaching marijuana for medical and recreational use.

Mace’s bill is revolutionary federal, receiving positive responses from both Democrat and Republican lawmakers. The Senate leadership may be easier persuaded with this Republican-led legalization bill.

The National Defense Authorization Act 2021: SAFE Banking act and what it means for federal marijuana legalization

The federal legalization of recreational and medical marijuana may get a push due to the recent SAFE Banking Act, standing for the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act being introduced as part of the National Defence Authorization Act 2021.

This bill will allow financial institutions to be protected from federal intervention and prosecution when providing services to businesses dealing in recreational and medical marijuana. The NDAA is yet to be passed as of December 2021.

Cannabis advocates proposed a draft bill earlier this year to end the federal prohibition on cannabis and non-violent criminal records concerning the possession or use of the drug.

The SAFE Banking Act may not be enforced very quickly; president Joe Biden’s administration has discussed decriminalization and expungement of past criminal activities but has yet to take an active stance, even as citizens, patients, and advocates eagerly await wait for this chapter to take a positive turn.

The Bottom Line

The legalization of marijuana, both medical and recreational, seems to be getting a push in all directions, from bipartisan agreements, financial aid to provide for social equity applicants.

Many issues may still need to be hashed out; drug cartels, arms trafficking, and interstate commerce, among a few. However, there is hope. The state of New Jersey will officially allow recreational use of the plant from 1st January 2022.

Research is being funded federally and privately, warming up the perceptions of more adults in the US than ever in history.

With a newer, more responsible, and open-minded wave of lawmakers and advocates for marijuana across the globe, the people of the United States can safely expect complete federal legalization of cannabis very soon!

 

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Content is medically reviewed periodically by professionals for accuracy and relevance. Reviewers include doctors, nurses, mental health professionals, and even medical students. 

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