Recreational Marijuana: A State or Federal Issue?

November’s general election was undeniably historic. It was an election in which the increasingly polar climate of American politics truly reached a contentious extreme. While the most widely discussed race was obviously that in pursuit of the presidency, there were many other races throughout the country that provided results which indicated a tremendously divided public. One such race took place here in Arizona, and nine other states in which the legalization of marijuana appeared on the ballot. Proposition 205 didn’t pass here (I guess all of those signs on the side of the road asking “Would you be able to recognize marijuana? Would your children?” really hit home for some people), but recreational marijuana was successfully legalized in California, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Maine. This brings the total number of states where the recreational use of marijuana is legal to an all-time high of nine – a statistic that would have been completely unheard of forty years ago.

It appears the stigma that has historically surrounded marijuana as a gateway drug, or the inherent provider of corruption, is gradually disappearing. More and more research is being done as to the true effects of the drug, and it seems to have fewer adverse effects than the public has been led to believe. Indeed, anti-marijuana propaganda has been around for a long time so this shift in public sentiment in favor of the substance is certainly worth noting. As the public is becoming more comfortable with the recreational and medical uses of marijuana, legislation regarding the substance has been popping up all over the country and has been accompanied by much debate.

This week, Press Secretary Sean Spicer even indicated that the Department of Justice might also weigh in on the debate, stating the topic is something they would be “further looking into.” If the federal government does choose to promote stricter federal laws regarding marijuana use, the question of states rights becomes an issue. Federal action on this matter would infringe on states’ rights and undermine the balance between the states and the federal government that was built into the foundation of our governmental system. This is not a unique problem for our country, as we have seen in numerous cases throughout our history and our class discussions regarding Gideon v. Wainwright. When does the federal government reserve the right to impose legislation among the states? In the case of Gideon v. Wainwright, it can be easy to justify the implementation of a law that appears to protect the rights of all American citizens and uphold the “true American values.” And while there are many people who think that imposing stricter laws in regards to marijuana may contradict the values that are outlined in our Constitution, there are plenty of people who see this federal action as a protection of those same values. As with most highly debated issues in American politics, there isn’t a clear path to a solution outlined neatly in the Constitution. We can only hope that our elected officials represent us in a way that contributes to the protection of our rights as American citizens – whether or not that includes toking up every once and while.

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6 Responses to Recreational Marijuana: A State or Federal Issue?

  1. edander4 says:

    I find it interesting to look at the debate over legalizing marijuana in terms of how it would affect the rights of the states over the rights of the federal government. I agree that if the federal government takes over the regulation of marijuana throughout the country, then the states will bring it up as an issue.
    As you mentioned, national sentiment towards marijuana is changing. As it is becoming increasingly popular and is being legalized in more states, people are becoming more accustomed to it. Research is surfacing about the benefits of the drug, the same research that is bringing out how there is fewer adverse effects. It makes me wonder if marijuana, in the future, could be regulated in the same way that alcohol is. It would definitely have to increase in popularity and would have to be made legal in many more states, but it makes me wonder whether or not there will ever be an amendment to make marijuana legal throughout the country.
    Now this does not ignore the fact that this would essentially mean that the federal government would take control over the regulation of marijuana as opposed to leaving it to the states. However, they could reach a compromise in the same way that alcohol is regulated. The federal government could regulate the drug, but leave the distribution up to the states. That way, both would have a say.

  2. morgandick says:

    Hey Bronte,

    First of all great post! You had a well thought out exposition and argument and posed some really thought-provoking questions. At first, when Prop 205 was introduced, I was fairly convinced that the voters would approve it. However, as campaign season wore on the tides began to shift. The “anti-Prop205” group dumped a considerable amount of money into their campaign and it obviously was money well spent for them. What was shocking to me was the Arizona was one of a few states who had the legalization of recreational marijuana on the ballot and did not pass it. Like you pointed out, the use of recreational marijuana is something that the vast majority of the public has softened to in the last ten to thirty (ish) years. Being said, there is still a huge portion of people (particularly those in the older generation) that disapprove. And let’s just put it out there a ton of old people live in AZ. I must have missed the press conference where Spicer announced possible DOJ action on this topic so I appreciate the link. To be totally honest, I am not sure where I personally fall in the debate of whether states or the feds should have jurisdiction over legalization. I understand public safety and health concerns are a top priority for all levels of government. But when you look at the demographics living in specific areas of the U.S it is clear they want different things. I will definitely be doing some more research on this topic though; I’ll let you know when I make up my mind.

    • amsturdam says:

      Really nice post Bronte! Recreational marijuana has always been a topic that has intrigued me ever since Colorado and Washington elected to legalize it. I also thought that when Prop 205 was proposed Arizona would join these states and legalize the drug. It was also interesting to see throughout the campaign season the affects the opposition groups had against the legalization of it. The commercials aired were so anti-marijuana and claimed to expose the lack of funds the legalization supposedly provided for education in Colorado. It got so bad that a group of Colorado lawmakers got involved eventually writing a letter to these groups asking them to stop spreading false information about what has occurred since the legalization. As far as the federal government and how it can affect these states I don’t believe there will be much of an issue. I think this has become a steady course of income for these states and pulling the rug out from underneath them could do more harm them good for their economies. As far as my stance on the issue I believe it should be legalized nationwide. One of the main arguments against it is that it causes brain damage or kills brain cells. The study that supposedly “proved” this showed that frequent users had an IQ drop of 8 points over the course of their study. Only 38 of the 1000 people studied showed this drop and they smoked more than four times per week over a 20 year period. Both of these are much higher than the average smoker and represent a small part of the population. Because of this I think that it should be legalized and taxed the same way alcohol is.

  3. mspivey97 says:

    Excellent work! While I tend to think that it should be up to the states to decide if recreational marijuana should be legal, I do think it’s time for the federal government to take their ban on recreational marijuana off the books, and should simply be neutral on the subject. The current prohibition creates a number of problems for dispensaries that are unfair. Not being able to put your business’s money in a bank or process electronic payments could really open up these places to robberies. That being said, if the impediments from the federal government were removed, I think actually allowing the drug’s use should be in the hands of states. There doesn’t seem to be a particularly compelling reason for a unified system that overrides the 10th Amendment concerns many conservatives have. Besides, proponents of legalization may actually find a state by state process more effective in the long run. There are certainly examples of an intense backlash caused by a sweeping federal change in policy. Abortion is a pretty good example here. Public opinion on this issue definitely seems to be shifting in favor of legalization, even if Arizona failed to pass the measure. There’s no doubt this is an interesting debate!

  4. bealpeyton says:

    Good to see a topic that, for some reason, I hear less and less about from the political sphere the older I get! Something that continues to astound me, for whatever reason, is that the “floodgates” have yet to truly open as far as marijuana legalization is concerned. As of now, eight states and the Washington D.C. marijuana for both medical and recreational use. As recently as 2012 did the first states, Colorado and Washington, decriminalize possessing below a certain amount of marijuana for those 21 and older. Also, according to Gallup, 60% of the population support legalization; it is strange to me how there is still so much resistance, when other issues with a similar level support would likely be close to getting a bill through congress.
    Regardless of whether or not a person believes that marijuana should be legal for either medical or recreational use, or both, I think anyone would struggle to justify why it is categorized as a Schedule I narcotic. Any drugs that fall under that severe description must, in the words of the federal government, be “a substance that has a high potential of being abused by its users and has no acceptable medical uses.” Based on most studies I have seen, and as far as I currently know, marijuana is not “highly addictive’ and does not have a high potential of being abused. Additionally, I think it is now a medical consensus that medical marijuana has, usually, as least some medical benefit. If marijuana is dropped as a schedule I drug by the DEA and the executive branch as a whole then, perhaps, the floodgates will finally open and laws across the country that prohibit marijuana use will fall like dominos. Just a thought!

  5. dneu1 says:

    First off I want to say that this was a good, concise, well-sourced post that neatly outlined the issue of marijuana policy as it relates to Arizona and our government. I personally think there is very little in the way of hard evidence that marijuana is a highly dangerous schedule one drug, and I come down on the side that one other commenter mentioned: that it should be regulated at the federal level with distribution left up to the states. This post and our comments though got me thinking, I really don’t know a single person aside from some very old relatives (and not even all of them) who is against marijuana legalization. And yet somehow prop. 205 failed here. I really think the arguments against legalization are terrible and I can’t understand how it failed, which really got my thinking about the type of bubble I live in. Even though I’m pretty young and liberal, two important indicators of support for legalization, I really feel like I should know at least a few people who were publicly against 205. I was so stuck in my bubble that I was totally isolated from 52% of voters, which scares me not only for this issue, but for how out of touch I may be on other ones

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