The battle over marijuana took a significant turn as the Supreme Court left California’s Compassionate Use Act, which allows the use of medical marijuana, intact by refusing to hear a suit filed by the San Diego and San Bernardino counties. Local officials in the two counties would not allow their residents to use cannabis as part of their treatment plans and had hoped that the United States Supreme Court would support them. Now, the counties must distribute cards allowing for medical marijuana use.
The decision has vast implications, considering that 12 other states have similar laws and efforts to completely legalize marijuana are increasing. This decision was a significant step because it acknowledges that marijuana has possible medicinal benefits, establishes state authority and indicates increasing popular acceptance of the drug.
Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, which means that it has no official medical use according to the federal government. In addition, in 1970, Congress enacted legislation to make the use or sale of marijuana illegal. Since that time, the war on drugs has escalated and waned with each presidency and efforts to prevent the use and sale of marijuana have failed overall. According to Jon Gettman, a marijuana policy researcher who was interviewed by ABC News on the topic, marijuana is America’s largest cash crop.
Recent developments indicate a reversal in policy over the previous two decades. Our last three presidents have all admitted to or have been accused of marijuana use. Thirteen years ago, California passed the Compassionate Use Act to allow its citizens to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Since then, 12 states, such as Maine, Montana and New Mexico, have followed suit. Under the new Obama administration, the federal government has stated that it will not go to great lengths to prosecute low-level state marijuana cases.
But these developments have not stopped San Diego and San Bernadino counties from refusing to allow their sick citizens a chance to use medical marijuana. Since 2004, California has required counties to issue identification cards, but the two counties have refused to comply despite lawsuit threats. Each county believed the state law directly conflicted with federal regulations on marijuana. The counties first attempted to take their issue to the California Supreme Court. When the court refused to hear their case, the counties looked to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2005 that the federal government could ban the possession of the drug in states for the treatment of illness.
However, the Court refused to hear the case, which means the state policy remains valid. This, combined with the federal government’s policy on low-level cases, means San Diego and San Bernardino counties will likely be distributing identification cards.
The decision backs the power of the state. Marijuana laws at the federal and state levels conflict, and this time the Supreme Court’s action favors the state of California. This gives California, and other states in a similar situation, the chance to allow medical marijuana use.
The more power the states have, the more likely the legalization of marijuana will become. With increased independence, California will be able to pass a legalization bill allowing the taxation of marijuana sales to people above a certain age. The country will watch as the first working model of a state with legal non-medical marijuana comes into focus. The speculation will finally end. People who have always said that legalizing marijuana will cause drug use to skyrocket will see that the state will not crumble and the world will not implode. In the meantime, crime and violence surrounding marijuana sales will be drastically reduced and the state will gain billions in tax revenue. A more regulated system will also reduce the dangers of getting marijuana laced with undesired substances.
This vision of California is just like the speculation of those who swear legalization would burn the state to the ground, but my version has facts and other countries as an example to back it up.
State tax collectors estimate the state could make $1.3 billion a year if they taxed the already-known marijuana sales. Other countries like the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal have decriminalized marijuana in small amounts, which has led to significantly lower murder rates related to the drug. A state with legalized marijuana is not too far away, and while this Supreme Court decision may not be an enormous step forward, it does help establish state authority, leading us a step closer to a legalized state.
Kevin Pease is a fourth-year psychology and social behavior major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.