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Legal Issues of Marijuana
Multiple U.S. states have legalized marijuana, allowing for the legal distribution, production, and possession of the substance. This allowed individuals to use marijuana for either medical or recreational purposes. However, the legalization only applies to specific states and marijuana remains an illegal substance under federal laws. There are various legal issues with marijuana that prevent it from becoming federally legal, or at the least, make the process difficult. This sample essay will discuss the different legal issues regarding the legalization of marijuana.
Reason for Legalization
The main reason for the legalization of marijuana is its supposed medical applications. Marijuana or Cannabis sativa is a plant that contains chemicals, such as the addictive delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. THC is an addictive substance that can lead to behavioral problems and mental illness (Evans, 2019). However, this same substance also aids in controlling an individual’s ability to feel pain. This made marijuana an effective pain control agent as well as a muscle relaxant, nausea treatment, and other physical and mental issue treatments (Grinspoon, 2020). Patients who benefit from marijuana use advocate the legalization since it will allow them to use the substance legally anywhere in the country.
However, it is important to note that there are yet clinical trials and studies that prove the medical properties and applications of marijuana . This is due to the substance’s Schedule 1 status, making its use illegal under federal laws. Most of the data regarding marijuana as an effective pain reliever and treatment are from patient anecdotes. Patients experience different effects of the substance and without extensive clinical studies, researchers cannot prove or disprove the medical properties of marijuana.
The legal issues with marijuana include increased crime rates, effects on the black market, licensing, commercial prohibitions, taxation, and legal effects on users. These legal issues stem from the reaction of existing markets and the government, drug laws, retail laws, and the public’s perception of the substance. There is also the fact that the THC content of marijuana has increased over time. Marijuana only had less than 2% THC during the 1960s and 1980s, however, modern marijuana products can reach 99% THC levels (Evans, 2019; Stuyt, 2018). This significant increase in THC levels makes marijuana more addictive and potentially intensifies its effects. This can lead to increased crime rates and be the subject of debate for raising the legal issues with marijuana.
Increased Marijuana-Related Crimes
The legalization of marijuana had a detrimental effect on marijuana-related crimes. According to the University of Colorado, Johns Hopkins University, Harvard Medical School, and the National Association of Assistance United States States Attorneys; there has been a significant increase in marijuana-related violence, traffic fatalities, poisonings, black market activities, underage usage, property damages, burglaries, and other crimes (cited in Evans, 2019). The increased crime rates tend to be around marijuana dispensaries and within states that have legalized the substance.
The legalization allowed individuals to use marijuana in public, leading to various issues. Marijuana-related traffic fatalities and crimes have increased since individuals are using the substance while driving. Since the legalization, individuals are treating marijuana similar to smoking cigarettes which then leads to increased traffic fatalities. Distributors and users are even operating near or within school zones, potentially exposing children to marijuana (Evans, 2019). Distributors may begin selling marijuana to underage teens, similar to alcohol and cigarettes. Operating near schools also means that marijuana buyers and users will be near the area, increasing violence and harmful behaviors in school zones. This raises legal and social issues regarding the potential harm that legalization can cause to children and the public.
The immunity of distributors and users from state criminal laws may be a factor in the aggressive use and distribution of marijuana. State medical marijuana laws provide registered distributors, patients, and producers immunity from criminal laws (Garvey et al., 2015). Distributors can offer their products to anyone within states that legalized marijuana and ignore the social consequence of their business. Since criminal laws do not apply to them, they operate near or around school zones. They are not liable for any marijuana-related poisonings or fatalities since the medical marijuana laws protect them. This is a significant legal issue since distributors and users can abuse their immunity and cause harm to the public.
Another legal issue with marijuana is the lack of licensing for entering the industry. The medical marijuana laws allowed the distribution, use, and production of marijuana but did not require any licensing process for the industry. Julie Steiner, a teacher of cannabis law and policy at the Western New England School of Law, stated that there should be a licensing system that provides opportunities for both large and small operators to address the marijuana-related crimes (cited in Rifkin, 2019). Licensing will allow the local governments to monitor the industry and conduct background checks on operators. Releasing licenses for different business aspects, such as health permits, seller’s permits, and other licenses can help manage and monitor distribution. This will establish operation limitations, such as preventing distribution near school zones; reducing the negative effects of the legalization.
Addressing Past Marijuana-Related Convictions
The legalization of marijuana repeals prior convictions of marijuana-related crimes, allowing some individuals to receive relief from their past crimes. However, marijuana-related crimes vary and some individuals may still conduct harmful practices despite the legalization. For instance, an individual may not only be a marijuana distributor but also sells methamphetamine and other illegal substances. David Soares, District Attorney of Albany County, suggested that there should be a prosecutorial review that will assess whether an individual should receive relief for their past marijuana-related crimes (cited in Rifkin, 2019). This will ensure that some individuals will remain under monitoring while others will be free to conduct businesses, marijuana-related or not.
Effective Enforcement of Marijuana Laws
Effective enforcement is also an issue with the legalization because of the previously mentioned increase in marijuana-related crimes. Soares stated that the government will need to dedicate additional resources to address the increase in crimes (cited in Rifkin, 2019). States will need to dedicate additional traffic enforcers and tools to manage marijuana-related traffic accidents. They will need breathalyzers or other tests to identify marijuana-impaired drivers. Additional manpower is essential in areas near marijuana dispensaries to reduce violent and property crimes. This will require financial support from the government as well as public compliance.
Prohibition of Sales
Since marijuana is still illegal under federal laws, there is a prohibition on sales. Distributors cannot sell their products outside certain states and individuals with prior marijuana-related convictions will find it difficult to enter the industry. Sara Payne, head of the cannabis practice at the Barclay Damon firm, stated that the prohibition of sales prevents lawyers from helping their clients and grants unusual tax deductions to operators (cited in Rifkin, 2019). This issue focuses on the challenges that marijuana distributors will experience in the industry. They will have limited legal support and must pay more tax for their businesses.
Tax and Industry Control
Since the legalization of marijuana relies on state-specific laws, the state controls the industry and the taxes that businesses must pay. In Washington, the marijuana excise tax is 25% for each sale; Colorado has a 25% retail tax, a 15% excise tax, and a 10% sales tax; Alaska imposed a $50 excise tax for every ounce of marijuana (Garvey et al., 2015). This control over tax allows states to collect from marijuana operators and utilize the funds for government projects. However, high taxes can pose a challenge to small operators and prevent them from participating in the industry. One can argue that local governments may take advantage of this control, worsening the conditions for small operators.
Aside from taxes, local governments can control the marijuana industry through the establishment of retail marijuana laws. For example, the Colorado Amendment 64 allows the Colorado local government to regulate marijuana operations; the Alaska recreational marijuana law gives the local government the authority to set the time, place, manner, and density of marijuana businesses; the Oregon Ballot Measure 91 allows local authorities to also set the appropriate time, place, and manner for marijuana businesses (Garvey et al., 2015). This control over integral aspects of the marijuana industry grants local governments the ability to affect the operations which can make them liable for certain effects of the industry.
Legal Effects on Employees
The legalization of marijuana also poses a threat to employees who use the substance for medical or recreational purposes. According to Garvey et al. (2015), while the marijuana state laws provide users with immunity from criminal laws, private entities can establish rules against marijuana users. Businesses can create rules to prevent the use of substances in the workplace and make sure that employees are not under the influence of marijuana. They have the right to fire a marijuana-using employee or refuse to service a marijuana user. This opens up legal and social issues regarding discrimination and employment laws.
The legalization of marijuana is a step in taking advantage of the potential medical properties of the substance . The legalization, however, resulted in the rise of legal issues concerning marijuana. Crime rates have risen in states that have legalized marijuana. This led to the need for licensing systems and better enforcement to help in monitoring and managing its detrimental effects on crime. Other legal issues showcase the complex situation that the marijuana industry is in–local governments controlling taxes and the industry. Users, especially private employees, risk losing their jobs due to marijuana use since the marijuana laws cannot protect them. These legal issues are just some of the challenges that the legalization of marijuana poses and as the debate continues, the situation will become more complex.
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Evans, D. (2019). Marijuana Legalization Will Cause Many Problems for Missouri Law Enforcement and Schools. Missouri Medicine, vol. 116(3). Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6690273/. Accessed June 22, 2022.
Garvey, T., Doyle, C., & Carpenter, D. (2015). Marijuana: Medical and Retail–Selected Legal Issues. Congressional Research Service. Available at https://sgp.fas.org/crs/misc/R43435.pdf. Accessed June 22, 2022.
Grinspoon, P. (2020). Medical Marijuana. Harvard Health Publishing. Available at https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/medical-marijuana-2018011513085. Accessed June 22, 2022.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). What is Marijuana? National Institutes of Health. Available at https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/what-marijuana . Accessed June 22, 2022.
Rifkin, R. (2019). Challenges in Legalizing Marijuana. Albany Law School. Available at https://www.albanylaw.edu/government-law-center/challenges-legalizing-marijuana . Accessed June 22, 2022.
Stuyt, E. (2018). The Problem with the Current High Potency THC Marijuana from the Perspective of an Addiction Psychiatrist. Missouri Medicine, vol. 115(6). Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6312155/. Accessed June 22, 2022.