Marijuana Legalization: The Times, Are They a-Changin’?

In the world of marijuana legalization, it seems like the states are rolling stones in the face of immutable federal law. While marijuana steadfastly maintains its status as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act (thereby making pot illegal to possess, use, distribute and the like), momentum continues to grow at the state level for allowing the medical and recreational use of pot. 

Efforts have been underway to remove marijuana as a Schedule I drug nearly as long as it’s been part of that schedule. The first such efforts began in 1972, and continue to this day. Advocates of rescheduling marijuana assert that legalizing its use at the federal level could significantly reduce government spending for enforcement of prohibitions against pot use. At the same time, they argue that the annual revenue generated through proposed taxation and regulation could make an enormous difference in eradicating budget shortfalls. Meanwhile, patient advocates say that the rescheduling of marijuana would allow patients who can’t legally use medical pot to benefit from its therapeutic and palliative value. 

For decades, the federal government has been able to "just say no" to removing marijuana from Schedule I of the CSA. The most recent denial came in a letter dated Aug. 11, 2016, in which the federal Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration stated that marijuana would remain a Schedule I controlled substance because it doesn’t have a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; there is no accepted safety for its use under medical supervision; and it has a high potential for abuse. The DEA added, however, that "if the scientific understanding about marijuana changes—and it could change—then the decision could change." 

Meanwhile, pot restrictions at the state level are relaxing more quickly than ever. A whopping 10 states plan to ask the voters what they want in the upcoming November elections. Here’s a rundown on the ballot initiatives voters will be considering next month: 

  • Arizona’s Proposition 205, Maine’s Question 1, Massachusetts’s Question 4, and Nevada’s Question 2 would regulate marijuana in the same manner as alcohol.
  • Arkansas’s Ballot Issues 6 and 7 would allow the medical use of marijuana for the treatment of certain debilitating conditions.
  • California’s Proposition 64 would legalize recreational marijuana use for adults.
  • Florida’s Amendment 2 and North Dakota’s Initiated Statutory Measure 5 would allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
  • Montana’s Initiative 182 would repeal certain limits on the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
  • Oklahoma’s State Question 788 would allow the cultivation and use of marijuana for therapeutic purposes (this question might go to a special election to be held after Nov. 8)

Bottom line? Despite the spate of state measures scheduled to go before voters this November, the federal government’s continued refusal to re-schedule marijuana might mean that the ongoing efforts of states to legalize pot will go up in smoke. The times, they might not be a changin’ after all.

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