The U.S. Justice Department is reviewing federal marijuana enforcement policy through the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the move Apr. 5, with the aim of ensuring “consistency with the Department’s overall strategy on reducing violent crime and with Administration goals and priorities.”
From asserting “good people don’t smoke marijuana” to this past week expressing surprise more people aren’t enthused by his anti-marijuana stance, Sessions’ position as head of the DOJ understandably makes supporters of legalization nervous. As much as supporters of legalization dislike it, Sessions would be well within his authority to prioritize enforcement of federal laws against marijuana, even in states that have voted to legalize it, because federal law trumps state law.
Marijuana is officially a Schedule I drug under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which designates the drug as having no accepted medical use, a high potential for abuse and a lack of safety even under supervision, thereby prohibiting it. There has been considerable debate for decades about whether such restrictive standards should apply to marijuana, or whether its scheduling makes sense considering alcohol and tobacco aren’t scheduled but are potentially more dangerous than marijuana, but that’s what the law currently is.
But while the Obama administration chose to take a hands-off approach when it came to states that voted to legalize marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes, the future is less clear under the Trump administration. On the campaign trail, Trump made numerous statements indicating he preferred to let states make their own choices, a perfectly reasonable position given that nowhere in the U.S. Constitution could one find any mention of drug policy as a legitimate focus of the federal government.
Related: Op-Ed: The War on Drugs is back, unfortunately
Trump’s campaign speak aligns with the current state of the country. Most states, 28 in fact, have passed laws approving marijuana for medicinal use, while eight have approved the legalization of marijuana for recreational and medicinal use. Polls by Gallup and Pew have found nationwide support for legalization as high as 60 percent.
Earlier this month, the governors of the first four states to legalize marijuana for recreational use, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, sent a letter to Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin requesting the status quo of the Obama administration remain intact. Soon after, the California State Senate approved a resolution authored by State Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, requesting the rescheduling of marijuana.
Fundamentally, there is a relatively straightforward way of resolving the conflict between federal and state laws: removing marijuana entirely from the Controlled Substances Act, leaving to the states the choice of how to deal with marijuana.
Several bills have been proposed in the Congress to do this. These includes “The Path to Marijuana Reform,” a package of bills introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, both of Oregon, which would not only deschedule marijuana but ensure marijuana businesses access to banking services. There’s also the “Ending Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017,” introduced by Republican Rep. Tom Garrett of Virginia and Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, which would also give states freedom to choose.
Rather than wait for the possibility of a crackdown, the Congress should respect the wishes of the American people and put an end to the decades-long embarrassment of federal marijuana prohibition.