The Mayor of Philadelphia says marijuana should be legal and sold in liquor stores. On April 10, in an interview on WHYY Radio Times, Jim Kenney said,
“To me we have the perfect system to set up the legal recreational use of cannabis through a controlled state store system allowing the state to capture all the income that is going underground….The hardest place to get served underage in Philadelphia…was a Pennsylvania state liquor store.”
A Powerful and Timely Statement:
His argument is not that marijuana is such a wonderful product, but that rather than seeing all the money from underground and quasi-illegal sale of a product, why can’t the state make the distribution as safe as possible, and cop the revenue from the sales. That’s a pretty credible endorsement from a mayor. It’s also very business-like.
Currently, possession of marijuana is illegal in Pennsylvania, which lags behind many other states in the decriminalization of personal use. There are twin bills making their way through Pennsylvania’s house and senate to legalize medical use of marijuana. However, even if these bills should pass, possession would still be illegal under federal law. The enforcement of marijuana laws in the complex transition, as it gradually moves toward legalization, is complicated. Technically, if you are arrested for a marijuana offense (based on the weight of the marijuana you possess) you may face fines and incarceration. For Mayor Kenney to make his statement was a very gutsy thing. It may also signal some thawing in the ice cold legal attitude toward marijuana.
Status of Marijuana Legalization:
On November 8, 2016, multiple states legalized the use of marijuana for either medical or full recreational use. Legalizing marijuana was on the ballot in nine states last November. All these legalization measures passed except in Arizona. Four states voted to legalize medical use and four states legalized marijuana for anyone over the age of 20. Now 20 percent of the U.S population live in states where marijuana is legal. More than 60 percent of the country lives where medical use of marijuana is legal.
A Tangle for Federal Politicians:
This is a very complex issue. Politicians at the federal level, who have always fought for “states rights” on economic matters, will now face the choice of strengthening federal laws outlawing marijuana against the electoral judgements of the citizens of states which have decriminalized marijuana at some level. John Hudak, of the Brookings Institution described the political situation by saying,
“What happened in this election was big for marijuana. But what also happened was the status quo in Congress, the same leadership in Congress, who, frankly, is opposed to reform….[the election] can start to embolden the industry…to move policy in the right direction toward their interest in reform.”
The Obama administration had written a memo to let it be known that if states properly administer their liberalized marijuana laws, his administration would not interfere in what they are doing. The Trump administration could well reverse that position. Clearly, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the current Attorney General (and a long-time states rights advocate) has let it be known, he does not like marijuana.
Some states have set up a legal framework to help people who experienced arrest for marijuana offenses. California, for instance, created a facility for individuals charged with low-level federal marijuana charges (no longer crimes under California law) to have their record expunged by state courts. This kind of statewide legal reform has broadened the conversation about criminal justice in general, and the power of states.
Whether or not states laws favor legalization, federal law still dictates the policy of interstate institutions. Trucking will not be able to transfer marijuana products across state lines. Banks will not be able to accept marijuana money (unless it’s “laundered.”).