Federal Drug Law Enforcement and Legalization

Subject: Law
Pages: 6
Words: 1514
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: College

In the article, Cannabis Overview, the author provides an overview of the status of marijuana legalization across different states in America as well as a history of legalization of the drug. As of July 2021, about 15 states had legalized marijuana for medicinal and adult use only. Examples of such states include Arizona, New York, Alaska, and Nevada. On the other hand, states such as Florida Philadelphia, and Minnesota passed laws that allowed marijuana to be used for only comprehensive medical programs. A few other states like Indianapolis have very low THC programs. In all the states that have passed laws to legalize the use of the drug, there is no one that is not controlled by stringent policy regulations.

The race to legalize the use of marijuana for recreational purposes began a long time ago but it was not until the year 2012 when Washington and Colorado states first approved the policy program. This paved the way for other states to approve the recreational use of marijuana as well. Oregon, the District of Columbia, and Alaska approved it by 2014 while Maine, Nevada, California, and Massachusetts followed suit in 2016 (Hartman). However, there are also a few states whose voters have rejected the marijuana legalization efforts by governments and lobby groups. Ohio voters disapproved of the legalization process in 2015 while in 2018 Arizona voters rejected the same.

In the wake of signing into law legislation decriminalizing possession of marijuana by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam on May 21, 2020, there have been confusion in distinguishing between discriminating and legalization, especially in news articles. The article, State Marijuana “Legalization” and Federal Drug Law: A Brief Overview for Congress, seeks to help solve this confusion by providing a background on the cannabis-related legal regimes. The author mainly focuses on what the federal and state laws say about controlled substances. The article also explores the status of cannabis’ legal consequences under the Controlled Substances Act as well as outlining the certain issues that are worth consideration by Congress.

Cannabis sativa L., the plant from which marijuana is extracted, has several uses, which present it with overlapping legal regimes. For instance, cannabinoids can be used as a recreational drug because of their psychoactive effect while cannabidiol can be used for medical purposes. In addition, there is also a variety of cannabis that contains low delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol. This variety is known as hemp and is widely used in an industrial and commercial applications such as in making fibers, personal care products, and building materials. While coming up with the definition of marijuana in 1970, Congress did not include hemp and the products that meet its legal requirements. The concentration of THC in hemp is said to be less than 0.3 percent (CRS Legal Sidebar). Thus, hemp does not have psychoactive effects, which implies that it cannot cause one to get “high.” The author of this article, therefore challenges Congress to consider changing the cannabis status under the Controlled Substances Act and all the relevant federal laws.

Information on the Role of Government in Relation to Marijuana Policy Issue

The article, Cannabis Overview succinctly elaborates on the contributions of state legislatures, the executives, and the judiciary to the marijuana policy issue. From the very onset, it states that up to 18 States, the two territories and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use among adults. Thus, one gets to understand that marijuana is a policy issue that concerns respective states rather than the federal government. While enacting their policy issues, the states are under no obligation to copy what other states have done, nor are they coerced by the federal government. For instance, while states such as Washington, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and the District of Columbia were approving the use of marijuana for recreational purposes, Ohio declined to heed the pressure. However, initiatives by the state to take some policy issues, particularly on drugs are subject to interpretations by other arms of the government as well. For instance, after the state of South Dakota passed the Constitutional Amendments during the 2020 elections, it was overturned by the court on grounds that it was unconstitutional.

The issue of federalism is a major concern when it comes to marijuana policy and legislation. This means that despite the sovereignty of different states, they can, nonetheless, request Congress of the United States to provide clarification over an area that is not clear. For instance, Michigan state once required the US Congress to clarify its position on marijuana legality under the Federal Controlled Substances Act. Indeed, in 2018, several bills were brought before different state legislatures to address the role played by the federal government in marijuana policies. For instance, California asked the Congress to pass legislation permitting funding institutions to offer financial services to the cannabis industry. This is a testament that marijuana is a policy issue that is prone to trigger legal misunderstandings between the state and federal governments.

According to the article, State Marijuana “Legalization” and Federal Drug Law: A Brief Overview for Congress, the government plays a crucial role in ensuring formulation of laws and policies that control the use of marijuana. It does this through its various agencies such as the DEA and its branches. It is the legislative arm of the government, Congress that provides the required definition and classification of drugs and their constituent elements. From this article, it is apparent that it is Congress that enacted the farm bill of 2018 after realizing that hemp had a low THC content. By amending the CSA, Congress ensured that hemp should not fall under controlled substances under the CSA. However, hemp is still under regulation by the federal government. It is still regulated by such federal agencies as the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture. The latter regulates its derived consumer products while the former regulates its production.

Through the Controlled Substances Act, the federal government has stringent control and regulatory measures against marijuana and other drugs. The federal government uses this act to impose comprehensive controls for regulation on substances and drugs that it deems to pose a risk of dependence and abuse. This applies to both recreational and medical drugs and is intended to target the public against the dangers of such drugs. The status of any substance or drug under CSA can be controlled by either the DEA or Congress. Both of these institutions can either add or remove a drug or a substance in Schedules I up to V.

A drug with a lower schedule number is subject to greater restrictions by the federal government. This implies that drugs or substances appearing in Schedule I are subject to the most severe controls. By placing a drug or a substance under Schedule, the federal government is simply stating that the said drug has a high potential of being abused, lacks accepted safety guidelines for use, has no known medical use presently, and can only be used therapeutically under strict supervision. A contravention of the requirements spelled out under the CSA should be dealt with by the DEA, another government agency. DEA serves to enforce the legislative requirements on drug use. Moreover, the DEA can use the Department of Justice to institute criminal proceedings against a violator. Thus, it is evident from the above discussion that this article provides a plethora of proof that demonstrates the government’s role in relation to the marijuana policy issue. The government does this through its various departments and the three branches.

Out of the eighteen states that have legalized the use of marijuana, twelve had Democratic trifectas and two had Republican trifectas. A trifecta is a political situation where one party has the majority in the Senate, a majority in the state House, and holds the office of the governor. Only four states had divided governments. This is an indication that Democratic-led states are the majority when it comes to the legalization of marijuana. On the other hand, the Republican-led states have retained their conservative nature and maintained marijuana is dangerous for human health.

It was in the year 1937 that the US Congress passed a law to illegalize marijuana use for industrial, therapeutic, and recreational through the Marihuana Act. In 1970, under the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana was classified under Schedule I substances where it belonged with drugs such as heroin. Surprisingly, the cocaine drug was classified under Schedule II. Schedule I drugs are deemed to lack any medical use and have a high potential for triggering a dependency. As a result of this classification of marijuana, the US government considered it a federal offense to distribute the drug. Since then, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has been tasked to eradicate the growth and distribution of marijuana on US soil since the year 1979. This was coordinated through the Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP). In 2014, the program announced that it has managed to uproot 4.3 million marijuana plants, and recovered $27.3 million worth of assets from marijuana cultivators. With the new marijuana policy, these gains will most likely be reversed.

Works Cited

CRS Legal Sidebar. State Marijuana “Legalization” and Federal Drug Law: A Brief Overview for Congress. Congressional Research Service. 2020. Web.

Hartman, Michael. Cannabis Overview. National Conference of State Legislatures, 2021. Web.