When State and Federal Governments Can’t Agree: The Weed Question

When State and Federal Governments Can’t Agree: The Weed Question

Julia Paul

Written by Julia Paul and Sara Saidel 

The legalization a marijuana, a drug that is both legal and illegal at the same time in the US, has proven to be an extremely controversial subject for the past three decades. The unrelenting movement for the legalization of marijuana had led to a weed revolution in the business world. This has subsequently generated a great deal of media attention as well. However, problems arise when the substance is deemed legal in certain states but has remained illegal under federal law.


Although 25 states and the District of Columbia currently have laws allowing regulated cannabis sales in some form – whether it be for medical use, recreational use, or both – federal law does not allow for the use of marijuana in any way. Marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 substance – the same category as heroine- under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970. This means it has a high potential for abuse and is not considered medically beneficial. However, since the mid-1990’s, 25 states have created laws to allow or protect the use of medical marijuana, 4 of which have legalized recreational use of marijuana.


Because of this federal prohibition, legal marijuana-based businesses are “largely barred from using the banking system,” states NPR. Businesses are unable to get loans, customers are required to pay in cash, and state taxing raises numerous problems. Pew research shows that about 40 percent of Colorado cannabis businesses lack bank accounts all together. All of this loose cash floating around makes marijuana-based businesses a target for burglary, and thus they require full time security. Despite these challenges, the legal marijuana industry in Colorado has created more than 18,000 new full-time jobs and generated $2.4 billion in economic activity in 2015.


Meanwhile, according to CNBC, “Legal U.S. pot sales soared to $5.4 billion for 2015, up 17.4 percent from $4.6 billion in 2014,” and they are projected to grow to $7.1 billion by the end of 2016, according to a report by New Frontier and ArcView Market Research. With a constant demand for the substance and limited supply, the marijuana industry is booming.


On November 8th election, voters in California, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Maine chose to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Additionally, ballot measures in Florida, Arkansas, North Dakota, and Montana aimed at legalizing medical use of the drug passed. According to Gallup research, public support for making weed legal has reached 60 percent, taking over the majority of the country.


Still other problems arise when researchers predict that marijuana sales will be one of the leading industries in our economy in the coming years, but little research analyzing marijuana’s long term effects has been studied. A study showed that when users are teens, the drug may reduce thinking, memory, and learning functions and how the brain builds connections. Another study proved that people who started smoking marijuana heavily in their teens, lost an average of eight IQ points between ages 13 and 38.


“Proponents of legalization play down the potential dangers of marijuana,” explains Thomas Fuller in an article he wrote for the New York Times about the legalization of Marijuana. The common notion is that marijuana is not harmful because side effects are not always immediately displayed, as they are with other drugs.  


It is clear, as more and more states take action to legalize marijuana, the question of whether or not the federal government will permit use of the drug changes to when will the federal government permit its use. Researchers admit that this might be a tipping point for the legalization of marijuana under federal law. Gallup Analytics also expresses that “The transformation in public attitudes about marijuana over the past half-century has mirrored the liberalization of public attitudes about gay rights and the same-sex-marriage movement,” a matter which deemed legal in the supreme court.