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Marijuana to Remain Illegal Under Federal Law


In 2014, then- US Attorney General Eric Holder said that he was “cautiously optimistic” about efforts to legalize cannabis in the United States. Since then, the number of states that have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana and decriminalizing possession of pot have grown rapidly. Some states like Colorado and Washington, have very lenient laws. Others, like Alabama and Tennessee are still very strict when it comes to any kind of pot use or possession. For advocates of nationwide legalization of pot, things were looking up. Until now.


It had seemed that with so many states relaxing their laws on marijuana, it was a shoo-in for the federal government to follow suit. But the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently announced that they intend to keep marijuana illegal in the United States for the foreseeable future. They have rejected petitions to reduce the classification of marijuana as a schedule 1 drug. That is within their authority.


Passage of New Laws Could Override the DEA Decision


According to the DEA, they reached their decision based on the fact that medical marijuana currently has “no accepted medical use.” The reasons they provided for this belief is that “the drug’s chemistry is not known and reproducible; there are no adequate safety studies; there are no adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy; the drug is not accepted by qualified experts; and the scientific evidence is not widely available.”


The DEA’s report went on to say that due to a lack of consensus “among qualified experts” about whether or not “marijuana is safe and effective for use in treating a specific, recognized disorder.” In conclusion, their report about weed stated that “the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy.”


What this means of course, is that states that have already legalized marijuana, along with states that legalize it in the near future, are all in direct conflict with federal law. This creates a dilemma for law enforcement and prosecutors.  They will have to choose which laws they are choosing to enforce and which ones they are choosing to ignore.


Currently, there are twenty-five states including Michigan and the District of Columbia where marijuana has been legalized in some form or another. In addition, there are at least eight states that will be considering marijuana issues in the coming November election. Full legalization is up for consideration in Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada.  Arkansas and Florida will be voting on medical marijuana measures. In addition, Montana residents will be allowed to vote on a measure that would restore the state’s medical marijuana law after legislative and judicial actions curtailed it.


None of this makes any difference to the federal government’s stance on marijuana and its status as a potentially “dangerous and addictive” drug. If there is to be any light at the end of the proverbial tunnel for advocates of legislation, it is this: while the DEA has refused to legalize marijuana, they have agreed to pursue more scientific research into marijuana’s many uses. While this isn’t the news that many people wanted to hear about pot, at least there is the potential for additional research to lead to scientifically backed results, which could in turn lead to future legalization.

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