By Marguerite Arnold
While the marijuana legalization front may seem dull only during the media circus now dubbed the “Summer of Trump,” there is a lot afoot in the unsexy part of the revolution.
No matter the crazy rhetoric on just about every other topic, it is increasingly clear to wide swaths of the general public and state legislatures that current federal drug policy has to change—soon.
It is a certainty that after the presidential election next fall, no matter who wins, federal reform will be on the front of Congress’ agenda simply because it is being increasingly pressured by politics back home. This reality was underscored by the recent, and mind-blowing, resolution by the National Conference of State Legislatures. The nonpartisan national organization voted overwhelmingly in favor of a policy statement which throws its backing behind the states’ rights position on marijuana.
According to the resolution, “[T]he National Conference of State Legislatures believes that federal laws, including the Controlled Substances Act, should be amended to explicitly allow states to set their own marijuana and hemp policies without federal interference and urges the administration not to undermine state marijuana and hemp policies.”
Rather than create a policy on at least medical marijuana, however, NCSL is clearly staying out of the fray altogether, except to express the clear desire of members that the federal government back off on its current policy. No matter the significant advances in the past 19 months, the Department of Justice seems content to proceed with the status quo, at least in terms of prosecuting high profile cases. But the status quo is also no longer what it was even a summer ago. This has also been highlighted on Capitol Hill of late when aggrieved members of Congress demanded an investigation from the oversight arm of the Department of Justice last month for prosecution expenditures that are supposedly no longer authorized.
This resolution is just one more sign that the issue of federal reform can no longer be pushed off much past the end of Obama’s last term.
NCSL’s position, as much as it is a welcome step forward, is still a fairly cautious one. It leaves it open for states to do whatever they want, even if for now it still means prohibition. That will also change in the face of federal reform. Once marijuana becomes a federally recognized drug for clearly defined medical conditions, states will no longer be able to ban consumption, although production is another matter. This may be an issue in southern states, like Georgia and South Carolina, where perennially craven state legislatures have voted in favor of limited CBD-only bills while leaving desperate patients with no legal place to obtain it.
In the short term, and undoubtedly to also send the same message as the Congressmen who are irked that the DEA and DOJ seem to be prosecuting medical patients and dispensaries with money they do not have, NCSL’s intention seems not only clear but simple. The states want the feds out of the marijuana business, and they are buoyed by a groundswell of public support that shows no signs of abating.
However, from a bird’s eye view, this is a positive move forward. NCSL took a broadly non-offensive, if not bipartisan, stance that few if any could disagree with at this juncture. “The National Conference of State Legislatures recognizes that its members have differing views on how to treat marijuana and hemp in their states and believes that states and localities should be able to set whatever marijuana and hemp policies work best to improve the public safety, health, and economic development of their communities,” the resolution concluded.
One thing is for sure, no matter how crazy the other part of the political process gets from now until 2016, the NCSL has fired marijuana prohibition.