Why Supreme Court is asking the federal government about marijuana
Feds ask Supreme Court to stay out of lawsuit over Colorado marijuana.
In May 2015, the US Supreme Court asked the federal government for advice. TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – In a key step for supporters of legalizing medical marijuana, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would go on the November 2016 ballot.
The Obama administration has advised the Supreme Court not to take on a legal challenge brought against Colorado’s lax marijuana laws by neighboring states Nebraska and Oklahoma. Justices said the proposal, spearheaded by the group People United for Medical Marijuana, meets legal tests that include dealing with a single subject and having a clearly worded ballot title and summary. Verrilli wrote in a brief filed on Wednesday this week that the nation’s highest court isn’t the proper venue for complaints waged against Colorado’s recreational marijuana laws, which officials in the two surrounding states have accused of causing new health and safety concerns within their own borders. Oklahoma and Nebraska say Colorado’s legal marijuana system has created a flood of modern-day bootleggers who are buying pot in Colorado and then illegally crossing state lines. Verrilli filed his brief on the increasingly tricky issue of marijuana legalization, technically outlawed as a Schedule I substance under the federal Controlled Substance Act.
About 58 percent of voters supported the measure, which drew opposition, in part, from a group heavily funded by Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Entertaining the type of dispute at issue here — essentially that one state’s laws make it more likely that third parties will violate federal and state law in another state — would represent a substantial and unwarranted expansion of this court’s original jurisdiction,” Mr. Either way, this case is unlikely to stem the legalization movement, which promises to divide states and continue to create interstate dilemmas until a decision is made at the federal level. The state marijuana quandary has existed since at least 2009, when the Department of Justice said that prosecuting drug use legal under state laws would not be a priority.
The initiative lists a series of conditions that could be considered debilitating, including cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Separately, 23 states now allow for residents with certain health conditions to consume medicinal marijuana, and a provision tacked on to the omnibus spending plan unveiled in Congress this week would prevent the Justice Department from interfering in the ability of states to implement those laws. Nor would any such allegation be plausible.” Marijuana-legalization advocates see Verrelli’s filing as a sign the Obama administration is willing to relax federal restrictions, or at the very least a strong signal that voters who chose to legalize cannabis should be respected. “This is a meritless and, quite frankly, ludicrous lawsuit. Rick Scott last year approved a measure that allows limited types of medical marijuana for certain patients, such as children with severe forms of epilepsy. But most Coloradans would prefer to see marijuana regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol.” Legalization opponents argue Verrilli’s brief focuses only on a narrow legal issue and shouldn’t be seen as a change in policy.
Nationwide, momentum seems to be growing for legalized pot use, especially as states consider potential revenue they could collect on legal, taxable cannabis. The “War on Drugs” has done little to stop marijuana use, and many figure they might as well take financial advantage of what some say is a relatively low-risk drug. Recreational use is now legal in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Colorado, and in the District of Columbia, and likely to come up in 2016 votes in a handful of other states, as well, such as California and Massachusetts. But some people say that treating individual states’ marijuana laws as experiments – from which the rest of the nation can watch and learn – is a wise move for now, especially as lessons are learned about its health effects. Legalizing pot is “not an end-of-days disaster,” the Brooking Institution’s John Hudak told The Christian Science Monitor in February, but not much else is certain. “Right now, this is an exercise for the marijuana industry to make money,” said Kevin Sabet, cofounder of the San Diego-based Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), which opposes legalization. “My biggest concern is that we’re creating Big Tobacco 2.0, and we’re allowing them to market a drug that has a big risk for the developing brain to young people.” But others think that play-it-by-ear approach is unsustainable, as more and more states declare cannabis legal: “Something’s got to give, and it’s going to be federal prohibition,” the Drug Policy Alliance’s Stephen Gutwillig predicted one year after Colorado gave pot users the go-ahead.
Ultimately, the gradual state-based approach might lead to a Supreme Court decision, as it did with gay marriage: same-sex couples legally married in one state wanted their unions recognized in all of them, somewhat similar to marijuana users’ wish, but pot use is less compelling as a “fundamental right.” Others think marijuana will follow in alcohol’s footsteps: in 1933, after nearly 14 years as a “dry nation” in name, if not deed, Congress voted to repeal the 18th Amendment. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives.
Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, marijuana use is roughly equal between white and black Americans, but black users are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for possession. “Policy diffusion is often associated with an S-shaped curve,” Prof.
Andrew Karch of the University of Minnesota told Pacific Standard when its writers were attempting to predict the day marijuana might become legal nationwide. “The initial process of adoption is slow and steady, then the pace picks up, and finally it levels off.” The writers concluded that roughly 30 states would have to legalize marijuana before federal law reaches a tipping point.
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