Altered States: The Budding Prosperity and Problems of Medical Marijuana
A growing number of people support medical marijuana, and their commitment has driven decriminalization in the United States. Although the process has taken two decades and is still fraught with policy contradictions, medical marijuana has become so commonplace that states still prohibiting it are now in the minority, which is expected to continue shrinking in coming years.
In 1996, California first passed legislation legalizing medical marijuana. By the end of the decade, Alaska, Maine, Oregon, and Washington had followed suit. Since 2000, they have been joined by Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia, along with the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico.
Such widespread legalization has come at the impetus of citizens and state governments. The federal government still classifies all cannabis as a Schedule I drug, deeming it highly addictive and possessing no medical uses. This classification has prevented extensive scientific research into marijuana, but a substantial-enough body of evidence in favor of marijuana’s safety and health benefits has nonetheless been steadily building. As a result, the populace—if not its national leadership—have become aware of THC and CBD’s health benefits, fueling the widespread and ongoing push to legalize the substance for medical purposes.
States’ Rights vs. Federal Authority
Despite popular opinion, all marijuana possession and consumption is against federal law, and so any contact between marijuana and federal institutions are fraught with conflict and contradiction. Companies in the medical marijuana industry are unable to avail themselves to the services of the federal banking system, and many small banks, credit unions, and credit card companies are afraid to even touch the industry for fear of being accused of money laundering and other charges.
Beyond banking and credit, some medical marijuana users and businesses have experienced difficulty obtaining liability, property, health, and even auto insurance. Additionally, since the IRS is a federal entity, many marijuana-based businesses face severe tax penalties for dealing with the substance.
Federal employees and people working in federally regulated fields are still prohibited from consuming marijuana for any reason, and the same goes for anyone receiving federal housing assistance. Federal law also prohibits the sale of firearms to marijuana users, effectively nullifying their protection under the Second Amendment.
2018 and Beyond
With medical marijuana legal in over half the states in the nation, more are sure to follow—or at least try. As of April 2018, eight states have pending medical marijuana legislation: Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. Kansas, Mississippi, and Virginia all suffered aborted legislative attempts this year, but it is unlikely that these states’ residents will give up now that even recreational marijuana is sweeping the nation. And many eyes are also on Texas, which has surprisingly—if tentatively—begun relaxing prohibitions against marijuana and cannabis derivatives as treatments for serious diseases.
Regardless of short-term political vicissitudes, marijuana has returned in force to US culture. As its acceptance and popularity grows in the medical realm, we can only hope that politicians and legislators will follow the will of the people and not cleave to the letter of outdated and ill-informed law.