With the State of Washington voting to legalize marijuana, it’s time to review Federal marijuana policy before cannabis becomes another issue driving enormous and inefficient wedges between the State and Federal governments. While I’m not ready to jump on the legalization bandwagon just yet, it does seem that the days of effective marijuana regulation are numbered.
The Federal governments clearly has the interest and authority to restrict and attempt to impede the movement of drugs into the United States or across state borders. However, a substance grown and burned within the borders of a single state need not be the responsibility of the Federal government. As states continue to adopt their own rules for both recreation and medical use of marijuana, the issues and conflicts related to differing State and National policies will only increase. It seems the most rational solution is to simply devolve all power over marijuana to the individual States.
There are two major potential benefits to this system: first, it allows drug policy to closer reflect the needs, desires and beliefs of the people it affects. Second, it frees federal resources to assist those states that want to keep marijuana illegal and to control the flow of drugs across the National and State borders.
The only apparent disadvantage to a state-based cannabis control system is the flow from States allowing more marijuana use to those maintaining prohibition. The wort potential circumstance is that some states allow the commercial growing and uninhibited selling of marijuana, making the production of drugs cheap and easy in some states, and causing difficulty in control for states that want to maintain prohibition.
However, for several reasons this is not as potentially damaging as it sounds. For one thing, legal producers of marijuana will have an enormous motivation to keep their product within their State’s borders to avoid trouble with the federal government. For another, increased federal resources will be available in prohibitionist states and to patrol the borders. Furthermore, despite the fact that there are few true border controls between The Netherlands, with its famously liberal marijuana laws, and the rest of the Shengen zone of the EU, marijuana use in Europe, especially among youths, remains far lower than it is in the United States.
Montana’s medical marijuana was the first evidence that a change in policy was needed, but now that states are legalizing recreational marijuana as well, the time has come for drug reform advocates and state’s rights supporters to work together to allow each State to decide for itself to what extent it controls marijuana use among its citizens.