Legal Cannabis in the US: Not Whether But How?
73 Pages Posted: 1 Sep 2016 Last revised: 30 Oct 2018
Date Written: August 31, 2016
The 2016 election promises to be a turning point in the history of marijuana regulation in this country. Although the federal prohibition on all marijuana conduct remains in place, twenty-five states plus the District of Columbia currently authorize the medical use of marijuana and four states plus D.C. have legalized marijuana use by all adults. Many more states are expected to vote on marijuana law reform this fall and these numbers are almost certain to grow; the end of federal marijuana prohibition may soon be close at hand. But it is important to remember that federal drug policy – like the state-level drug reform that has preceded it – is not an all-or-nothing choice. Federal lawmakers will not choose between the current system under which marijuana is prohibited in all circumstances and for all purposes and a world in which there are no limits placed on how marijuana is produced, distributed, and consumed. My goal in this essay is to describe the current, tenuous status of marijuana under state and federal law and then to investigate the various alternatives to prohibition available to federal lawmakers seeking to reform the nation’s marijuana laws. I situate these alternatives on a continuum between the current federal prohibition and a relatively free market model similar to that in place in a state like Colorado. Each of these models will have pluses and minuses and it is important that lawmakers firmly establish their goals in moving away from the prohibition of marijuana; winners and losers will be chosen in this area far sooner than many realize.
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