Marijuana Legalization on State and Federal Levels

The debate on the legalization of marijuana is still ongoing as millions in the USA use this illicit drug. It has been estimated that the use of this drug increased in 2012 compared to the use in 2007 and the number of people who used marijuana in August, 2012 exceeded 18 million (Sacco & Finklea, 2013). Researchers note that people’s attitude towards the use of this drug has changed considerably as only 12% of Americans supported its legalization in 1969 while 52% support the use of marijuana today (Sacco & Finklea, 2013).

This change resulted in legalization of the use of marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes by individuals over 21 in Washington and Colorado (Garvey & Yeh, 2014). At that, the federal Controlled Substances Act (also referred to as CSA) prohibits “the possession, cultivation, or distribution” of marijuana (Garvey & Yeh, 2014, p. 1). Clearly, there is certain conflict between the federal and state law and policy makers are trying to resolve this conflict to ensure proper law enforcement on both levels.

In the first place, it is necessary to note that scientists are still unsure as for the impact the substance has on people’s health. According to numerous researches, the use of marijuana may result in a variety of psychological issues including such severe health conditions as schizophrenia especially when teenagers use the drug (Bostwick, 2012). Clearly, since it is still unclear whether the substance is safe or hazardous for people’s health, it will be still in the list of the CSA.

Nonetheless, in 2012, people in Colorado and Washington voted for decriminalization of the use of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. It is noteworthy that the latter is associated with small amount of substance that varies across the states (Sacco & Finklea, 2013). Apart from the change in the public opinion, policy makers also focus on a different aspect of the problem now. Thus, the Obama Administration tends to concentrate on the war against trafficking rather than prosecuting users. However, the federal law remains unchanged and the use of marijuana is still illegal.

Obviously, the laws legalizing and regulating the use of marijuana seem to be conflicting with the federal law. Such laws can be legally challenged according to the doctrine of preemption. According to the Supremacy Clause, if state laws come in conflict with federal laws, the former are regarded as void (Garvey & Yeh, 2014). At the same time, states can regulate controlled substances if they do not lead to the so-called ‘positive conflict’ with federal laws.

Therefore, medicinal or recreational use of marijuana is often seen as an area of state law enforcement. It is also noteworthy that the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is created on the federal level and this body concentrates on traffickers as well as distributors of illegal substances. At the same time, local police makes arrests “for marijuana possession offences” (Sacco & Finklea, 2013, p. 7). Therefore, there is certain line between the two levels of law enforcement.

However, sometimes the line is blurred as the Department of Justice still claims that even though the use of marijuana is legalized for certain purposes it is a federal crime and offenders will be prosecuted. Hence, the federal law keeps its supremacy and state policy makers have to comply with it. However, the Department of Justice issued Ogden Memo of 2009 where it is emphasized that “combating major drug trafficking remains a central priority” (Sacco & Finklea, 2013, p. 8). It is also necessary to note that there is a tendency of continuing law enforcement on both levels as policy makers are trying to minimize the spread of the drug use.

This enforcement has quite mixed effects on public opinion especially as regards police. For instance, some prosecutors tend to avoid prosecuting people for possession of small amounts of the substance. At the same time, under the police power, “states are generally free to criminalize any conduct” which leads to numerous arrests for the use (as well as possession) of marijuana (Garvey & Yeh, 2014, p.12). This causes a lot of tension between people and police as in some states it is not forbidden to use marijuana but a person can be arrested for it. Clearly, such situations bring to the fore the need to accommodate state laws to the federal law. It is necessary to provide states with ability to regulate the use of controlled substances by enacting particular and precise laws.

On balance, it is possible to note that there is certain conflict between the federal law and some state laws when it comes to the use of marijuana. Even though, there are efforts to minimize the discrepancies between the two levels, the conflict persists in some areas. At the same time, there is a trend to minimize the conflict as the federal law concentrates on trafficking rather than the use of the substance. Whereas, state laws only allow use of limited amount of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes.

Reference List

Bostwick, J.M. (2012). Blurred boundaries: The therapeutics and politics of medical marijuana. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 87(2), 172-186. Web.

Garvey, T., & Yeh, B.T. (2014). State legalization of recreational marijuana: Selected legal issues. Web.

Sacco, L.N., & Finklea, K. (2013). State marijuana legalization initiatives: Implication for federal law enforcement. Web.