What You Need To Know About Federal Cannabis Laws In The US
Now that several states legalized cannabis, the spotlight turns to the federal government. After all, marijuana is illegal according to the feds. Does that mean they can arrest whomever they please while ignoring state’s rights? The answer to that was once yes, then no, and now yes again. Let’s unpack the recent events against the backdrop of some marijuana history.
Federal Cannabis Laws In The US: Why Is Cannabis Illegal?
Depending on where you look you’ll find several theories on this.
Beginning at the beginning, cannabis was medicine here as well. Before it was outlawed, society recognized cannabis as a treatment for stomach aliments, inflammation and insomnia. Around the turn of the 20th century, however, xenophobia and racism join the discussion.
As is sadly often the case, Mexican immigrants around the turn of the century faced discrimination. Americans weren’t welcoming these new residents with open arms. The fears and prejudices that greeted these immigrants included a distrust of their ‘killer weed.’ Police officers in Texas are attributed with telling the public cannabis made the Mexican immigrants violent and abnormally strong. They also claimed this criminal ‘other’ wanted to sell marijuana to children.
While this argument doesn’t pass today’s muster, it does get credit for influencing public opinion at the time.
By 1931, 29 states outlawed marijuana and the federal government essentially did the same passing the The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. The heat was on with a low tolerance until the 70s, when cannabis arrests generally decreased. This is perhaps because it became so mainstream during the social movement of the 60s. There were also some problems in the Nixon administration that obviously made carrying out his own ‘War On Drugs’ impossible.
By the 80s, however, President Regan was on it. Regan’s 1986 crime bill made penalities much harsher on non-violent drug offenders. President Clinton furthered that trend, regardless of whether he inhaled as a young man or not.
It seemed that President Obama was finally moving toward a more hands off approach, however the Trump administration has redeclared the War On Drugs. This is in spite of the wave of states legalizing it within their borders.
Federal Cannabis Laws In The US: The Cole Memo
The Cole Memo is talked about a lot, and we covered that separately. If you read that piece, you know this memo changed the way State Attorneys handled marijuana prosecution. If you missed that, here’s a synopsis.
In 2012, Colorado and Washington voted to legalize recreational cannabis. This move by these 2 states created a paradox; cannabis was now illegal on a federal level. During this particular time, a now infamous memo emerged relative to discussions State Attorney handling of cannabis arrests.
The Cole Memo marked a pivotal point in federal treatment of cannabis. It evidenced a significant shift in the federal government’s willingness to use funds to enforce cannabis prohibition under the Controlled Substances Act. In a nutshell, outside of trafficking pointing to larger criminal activity as mentioned in the list above, the directive was to ignore cannabis.
Most federal prosecutions decreased following the memo’s debut.
According to sources in the media, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions called for a walk back of The Cole Memo. This appears to reignite the War on Drugs and paint an unclear picture of marijuana’s future. At least police in Massachusetts made news for honoring the state’s rights on this issue.
We’ll keep bringing you the news on this interesting topic so relevant to our lives so stay tuned.