A single party controlling Congress and the White House generally means good things for legislation that has otherwise stalled due to partisanship. Such is the case with legislation to decriminalize marijuana. If you haven’t been paying attention, Democrats are poised to pass it in the near future.
Of course, there are no guarantees. It is always possible that some Democrats will join Republicans in opposing decriminalization. But it is equally possible that some Republicans will cross the aisle and push decriminalization over the finish line. Time will tell. We may not have to wait long to find out.
- From the Mouth of Schumer
The Senate’s senior Democrat, New York’s Chuck Schumer, has made multiple references to marijuana decriminalization in the past. His most recent reference was the declaration of Weed Day as an “unofficial American holiday” on April 20. Schumer’s declaration was in keeping with the general acceptance of April 20 as the most important day on the cannabis calendar.
The numbers associated with that date – 4 and 20 – have long been utilized by marijuana users to speak about all things cannabis related. Legend says the number 420 was adopted by 1970s pot smokers in Marion County, California. Whether or not the legend is true, the number and date are definitely a part of modern marijuana culture.
Senator Schumer referencing 420 and Weed Day is a strong indicator that he supports the marijuana culture. He not only supports medical cannabis, but he also favors recreational use as well. He believes it is time to decriminalize marijuana and reform the justice system to address people whose lives have already been altered by marijuana convictions.
- Medical and Recreational Use
Medical cannabis is now legally recognized in thirty-six states and the District of Columbia. Some seventeen states have gone so far as to completely decriminalize it. Among the fourteen that still consider cannabis illegal across the board, there are pockets of supporters. Some are already looking at medical cannabis legislation.
With such a mixed bag, it is not clear what federal decriminalization would mean to the states. Common sense seems to suggest one of three approaches:
1. The Status Quo
Assuming Washington acts to decriminalize marijuana with legislation that simply removes it from the federal list of controlled substances, states would still have at least some power to control cannabis production, distribution, and use. Under such a scenario, any states choosing to do so could probably maintain the status quo. States that consider it illegal across the board could maintain that stance.
2. Medical but No Recreational
Likewise, states that currently allow medical use but not recreational use could continue doing what they do. Utah is one such state. And in fact, UtahMarijuana.org says state lawmakers are working extremely hard to keep marijuana contained as a medicine only.
States that allow both types of use but create a distinct separation between the two could continue doing so. Vermont and New York immediately come to mind. Keeping the two uses separate allows regulators to control the medical market more tightly.
3. No Restrictions
The final option is to go with no restrictions whatsoever. States choosing to go this route would treat marijuana like alcohol. Those who want to use recreationally are free to do so. Those who want to use the drug medically would treat it like any other OTC medication.
All three options rest entirely on the language Congress employs to decriminalize marijuana. Ambiguous language would give states plenty of flexibility. However, if Congress chooses to use more exacting language, it’s possible they could force states to decriminalize whether they want to or not.