In a historical move on Wednesday Nov. 4, Bernie Sanders introduced legislation to the Senate to remove cannabis from federal scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. This is the first time a bill to end federal cannabis prohibition has been filed in the United States Senate.
The legislation, cited as ‘‘Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015,” would remove cannabis from it’s current Schedule I status, and repeal certain cannabis related penalties. The bill amends the Controlled Substances Act to be void of “marihuana” and ‘‘tetrahydrocannabinols.’’ This means that cannabis and all derived concentrates would no longer be classified as having no medicinal value in the United States. This would leave it up to each individual state to choose whether or not to legalize without intervention from the federal government.
Should the legislation introduced by Sen. Sanders be approved, shipping and transporting cannabis would remain illegal. Anyone caught illegally transporting would face up to one year in prison and fines.
Veteran activist and founder of Marijuana Majority, Tom Angell, pointed out that the introduction of this legislation proves that the rejection of the legalization initiative, Issue 3, by Ohio voters on Tuesday had nothing to do with the overall support for cannabis policy reform in America.
“The introduction of this bill proves that the defeat of the Ohio marijuana monopoly measure that wasn’t widely supported in our movement isn’t doing anything to slow down our national momentum.”
“This is the first time a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition has been introduced in the U.S. Senate. A growing majority of Americans want states to be able to enact their own marijuana laws without harassment from the DEA, and lawmakers should listen.”
The most recent Gallup Poll showed that the majority of American voters support ending cannabis prohibition in the United States with 58 percent of participants responding that the use of marijuana should be legal.
photo credit: NYULocal
It is no secret that most of the progress made regarding both medical and recreational marijuana legalization across the nation has been made at the state level. While federal authorities and Congress block research efforts and the Department of Justice (DOJ) continues to bust dispensaries and families in California, Colorado, and Washington, states continue to push forward with progressive legislation.
The latest example of state efforts to decrease federal interference with state laws or policies has come from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), which this week approved a resolution asking Congress that federal laws “be amended to explicitly allow states to set their own marijuana and hemp policies without federal interference.”
The preamble of the resolution explicitly refers to both hemp and marijuana and proclaims that the federal government has little power over states in terms of dictating whether and how they legalize all varieties of the plant — for any purpose.
“The federal government cannot force a state to criminalize cultivating, possessing, or distributing marijuana or hemp — whether for medical, recreational, industrial, or other uses — because doing so would constitute unconstitutional commandeering.”
The DOJ’s reliance on the Controlled Substances Act and the Schedule I status of cannabis — which legally defines the herb as totally lacking in medical benefit — has prevented cannabis-related businesses from activities such as utilizing banking services (regulated at the federal level) and claiming standardized business expenses on tax return filings.
Other legislative efforts, such as the CARERS Act sponsored by senators Cory Booker (New Jersey) and Rand Paul (Kentucky), are currently alive in Congress and would reclassify cannabis as Schedule II, allowing robust research and less federal interference. The CARERS Act would also allow cannabis businesses to utilize banking services, permit Veteran’s Administration physicians to recommend cannabis, and even legalize interstate commerce in CBD oil (which contains no THC and, thus, delivers no psychoactive effects to users, making it safe for children).
The NCSL resolution recognizes that states will disagree on the best way to legalize and regulate production and distribution of hemp, medical marijuana, and recreational cannabis. The resolution:
“…recognizes that its members have differing views on how to treat marijuana and hemp in their states and believes that states and localities should be able to set whatever marijuana and hemp policies work best to improve the public safety, health, and economic development of their communities.”
Tom Angell, Chairman of the Marijuana Majority, said of the resolution, “Overarching federal prohibition laws still stand in the way of full and effective implementation. These state lawmakers are demanding that the federal government stop impeding their ability to set and carry out marijuana laws that work best for their own communities.”
After legislation drafted by America’s first drug czar, Harry Anslinger, became law in 1937, a global wave of prohibition was launched. This included the United Nations, through which several global treaties outlawing marijuana are still in force today.
As an increasing number of states begin legalizing marijuana and even allowing regulated and taxed sales, the United States finds itself in a precarious and highly ironic situation: It is, technically speaking, violating the very international laws and treaties it originally encouraged.
All this may change, however — at least within the United Nations. According to Tom Angell, a prominent marijuana legalization advocate and founder of Marijuana Majority:
The United Nations is kicking off the first comprehensive review of global drug policies in nearly two decades this week, and a broad coalition of organizations is calling on the body to respect countries that legalize marijuana and enact other drug policy reforms.
This coalition, comprised of 100 organizations, is asking the U.N. to appoint a “Committee of Experts” to consider treaty reform. The Jamaican minister of justice, Mark Golding, made this proposal Thursday morning in New York.
The group, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, is hoping to convince the U.N. to update its global drug policies with a sensitivity toward nations that have chosen to end prohibition and instead regulate drugs like cannabis.
“The administration’s call to respect countries’ right to try regulation rather than prohibition is a positive step for drug policy, as are other reforms the US has sought internationally.”
Said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org. He continued,
“It doesn’t make sense to oppose having a discussion within the U.N. about modernizing the treaties.”
In a statement, Borden also explained, “Minister Golding’s call for an Committee of Experts on drug treaty reform is a bold and historic step forward for global drug policy. Defenders of the status quo can no longer paint the idea of regulating and controlling drugs, as opposed to prohibiting them, as against the will of the international community or lacking political support. Now it’s time for governments including that of the US to step up and do all they can to make the global drug policy system more humane and more respectful of human rights.”
The wave of medical and recreational cannabis legalization throughout the world isn’t the only reason for the group’s action. Ending the violence and corruption in Latin America, epitomized by brutal drug cartel terrorism in Mexico, is also a central focus of this effort.
The April execution by firing squad of eight drug smugglers in Indonesia, which prompted international outrage, is a recent and glaring example of the need for international reforms that keep pace with not only global marijuana legalization, but also basic human rights.
The results of a recent marijuana legalization survey of Americans by the Pew Research Center was released on Tuesday, as millions were busily preparing tax returns. The numbers mostly reinforce existing studies by a variety of organizations that, while nuanced, reflect that the majority of Americans are in favor of legal marijuana, both for medical and recreational use.
As one might expect, more Americans support medical than recreational legalization. Support of marijuana legalization of any kind is significantly higher among younger people than those who are middle aged or the elderly. Overall, 53 percent of Americans favor full legalization, down a single point from last year’s Pew study. 41 percent of responses said their reason for supporting legalization was marijuana’s value as a medicine, versus the 36 percent who said their main justification was the fact that pot is no more dangerous than alcohol or cigarettes.
More Voters Favor Legalization
The report also revealed that the limited success of the marijuana legalization movement, illustrated by four states and the District of Columbia having legalized recreational cannabis and 24 states allowing some form of legal medical use, is convincing more and more voters that legalization is a good thing.
As more Americans learn the reality of medical cannabis and people become educated, they become much more supportive of legalization efforts and ballot initiatives (the classic domino effect). It could also be argued that greater numbers of legal, open cannabis consumers also serve to de-stigmatize the herb, showing those around them that it is actually a medicine and doesn’t carry negative side effects, like lower IQ or mental illness.
Said Tom Angell, Chairman of Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization group:
“The more that people learn about marijuana and look at the benefits of legalization, the more likely they are to support reform.”
Among those 18-34, 68 percent support legalization. This is 16 points higher than the second most supportive age group of 35-50 year olds. The Pew survey revealed that millennials also supportive marijuana legalization across party lines, meaning a 20-year-old Republican might be in favor of legalization, while a 58-year-old Democrat might oppose it. However, among Republicans as a group — regardless of age — only 39 percent support legalization. Although this sounds like a low number, it is the highest marijuana approval rating among Republicans since Pew began the survey in 1969.
Opponents Lack Logic
Opponents of legalization point toward their belief that it is both dangerous and addictive. Somewhat tellingly, and an excellent example of circular logic, 19 percent of those who oppose legalization say it is because marijuana is illegal.
However, even 54 percent of Republicans said that the federal government should not interfere with states that have legalized cannabis — along with 58 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Independents (an argument leading many political pundits to suggest that Hillary Clinton would be wise to support full legalization). Among outright opponents of legalization, even 38 percent said that the federal government should allow states to legalize and not interfere.