The legal status of medical marijuana in the United States is something of a paradox. On one hand, federal government has placed a ban on the drug with no exceptions. On the other hand, over one-third of the states have that legalizes the cultivation, distribution, and consumption of the drug for medical purposes. As such, the usage of medical marijuana is an activity that is at the same time proscribed (by the federal government) and encouraged (by state governments through their systems of regulation and taxation).
This analysis will provide a recent overview on this unprecedented nebulous zone of legality in which an activity is legal and illegal (depending on the authority), an issue that one scholar on the subject has deemed "one of the most important federalism disputes in a generation." The issue has become heightened as two states have legalized marijuana for recreational (non-medical) purposes as a result of recent 2012 Election.
Furthermore, this project will examine the issue from a federalism perspective. I will attempt to review the federal government's constitutional authority to enact federal criminal prohibition on marijuana. This analysis will highlight certain principles of federalism that prevent the federal government from mandating that states participate in enforcing federal prohibitions. This research will also consider the current unresolved questions relating to the extent to which state authorization and regulation of medical marijuana are preempted by federal law. The paper will conclude with an assessment of what obligations does the Department of Justice has to investigate and prosecute violations of federal prohibition on marijuana.
The recent legalization of marijuana for medical usage, let alone for recreational use, has risen to one of the most controversial social issues in the American culture today. Research has indicated that there have been an increasing number of medical uses being found for cannabis including some possible uses for cancer. Many states have already cannabis for medical uses and marijuana can be readily prescribed for a doctor as they see fit. However, as the research continues to develop and continues to show promising results, it is reasonable to suspect that the medical treatments will prevail over the remaining states' hesitation to legalize its usage for medical purposes. The American Medical Association has publically stated that (AMA, N.d.):
"Our AMA urges that marijuana's status as a federal Schedule I controlled substance be reviewed with the goal of facilitating the conduct of clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines, and alternate delivery methods. This should not be viewed as an endorsement of state-based medical cannabis programs, the legalization of marijuana, or that scientific evidence on the therapeutic use of cannabis meets the current standards for a prescription drug product."
However, the even more controversial debate surrounding marijuana today is its use as a recreational product. Although many studies have indicated that it is a safer substance than legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco, there is a strong culture of resistance among a large percentage of Americans. President Barack Obama's White House has even commented on its status when he stated that "As has been well-documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life," Obama told New Yorker Editor David Remnick. "I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol. (Christensen & Wilson, 2014)"
Yet there remain many opposing views on the subject of decriminalizing the drug and these views have manifested to new levels over the course of the last few decades. The fact is that the legalization of marijuana could benefit the population of the Unites States in many ways. It has the potential to drastically reduce the prison population as well as create a foundation for the federal and state governments to increase their revenues through taxation; which would also help control quality as well as reduce the black market activity. However, to put the implications of legalizing marijuana in its full perspective, it is necessary to consider its place in the context of the overall "War on Drugs." This war has gained immense political popularity in some circles over the last few decades as well.
Yet the criminalization of drug related crimes has reached unprecedented heights and represents a separate problem altogether. In many prison systems there is what is referred to as prison crowding; which means that he facilities have more prisoners than what they were originally designed for. This often leads to the prisoners having to suffer unusually cruel conditions because they are cramped in prisons that simply have to many people locked up in them. Although many argue that there are various moral justifications, such as the gateway drug argument, for criminalization of marijuana, from a pragmatic perspective it is apparent that the consequence of the criminalization of marijuana is becoming increasingly costly to society on the aggregate. Therefore, the time has come to make some practical decisions about the future of marijuana in the United States. There is evidence for more effective policies and the political will to create a comprehensive federal and state policy that is congruent has been long overdue.
History of Criminalization
The controversy associated with the ongoing effects of the drug war, have been consistently mentioned throughout the public discourse since marijuana was initially banned in 1937 though the Marijuana Stamp Act. This was preceded by the prohibition on alcohol which was in effect from 1920 until 1933, which was also deemed a failure. Then in the 1960s, as drugs became symbols of youthful rebellion, social upheaval, and political dissent, the government halted scientific research to evaluate their medical safety and efficacy (Drug Policy Alliance, N.d.). The regulation of illicit substances finally escalated in the late 1960s when American soldiers began returning home from the Vietnam War and were addicted to heroin or other hard drugs which eventually prompted President Richard Nixon to declare an all-out "War on Drugs."
The War on Drugs became a popular political issue and the "war" was accelerated throughout the next few decades with each new round of politician claiming to fight even harder to curb drug use. One of the most notable cases was when President Ronald Reagan initiated the South Florida Drug Task force which was then headed by then Vice-President George Bush, in Miami, Florida in 1981. At the time, Miami was the primary entry point for the black market that would illegally import cocaine and marijuana which would then be transported throughout the country. Much of the task forces activity was highly dramatized and media portrayals of people addicted to the smokeable form of cocaine dubbed "crack" and soon after Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, his wife, Nancy Reagan, began a highly-publicized anti-drug campaign, coining the slogan "Just Say No (Drug Policy Alliance, N.d.) "
The Current War on Drugs
In the last century, the United States governments criminalizing different substances that they fell are against the public good or sometimes moral obligated to regulate. Different substances have been classified as drugs because they can be mind or mood altering. In the last few decades the criminalization of drugs has escalated to all-out "war" on drugs. Today in the United States, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 55% of federal prisoners and 21% of state-level prisoners are incarcerated on the basis of drug-related offenses which represents an incarcerated population greater than the population of Wyoming; the federal government is spending over twenty-two billion dollars alone on a so-called war that 76% of the population view as a failure (Head, Key Facts About the War on Drugs, N.d.). However, the "war" has become so unpopular with the American population that President Obama was actually the furst president that stopped referring to the criminalization of people for drug charges as the "war on drugs."
With the exception of so-called hard drugs, the controversy associated with the ongoing effects of the drug war, on the lesser drugs, such as marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco have been consistently debated in the public discourse since marijuana was initially banned. Marijuana was officially banned in 1937 though the Marijuana Stamp Act which was politically motivated as a tool to help control the Mexican immigrant population. This was preceded by the prohibition on alcohol which was in effect from 1920 until 1933, which was also deemed a failure. The regulation of illicit substances finally culminated in 1968, when American soldiers began returning home from the Vietnam War addicted to heroin which eventually led President Richard Nixon to declare an all-out "War on Drugs."
The War on Drugs was accelerated throughout the next few decades with each new generation of political leadership. President Ronald Reagan launches the South Florida Drug Task force which was headed by then Vice-President George Bush, in response to the city of Miami's demand…