Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer proposes federal decriminalization of marijuana.
Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) has joined with Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) to propose serious marijuana reform legislation. Although still in a discussion draft, the proposed Cannabis Administration & Opportunity Act (CAOA) represents a serious attempt to respond to the dramatic increase in support for marijuana legalization while still respecting those jurisdictions that have refused to embrace marijuana law reform. In short, the CAOA embraces Marijuana Federalism.
Jon Adler gets the plug he’s earned here.
(I wonder if any of its sponsors read my book: Marijuana Federalism: Uncle Sam and Mary Jane.)
What’s remarkable about this isn’t so much that it’s Schumer, who will do whatever serves his political interests and decriminalizing weed is a pretty popular goal, especially among the younger Democratic Party faithful, but that this may well be the most unconstroversial thing the Dems have raised since they took Congress. Why? Because the feds never should have been involved with marijuana in the first place.
The CAOA would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, but would not preempt state laws that prohibit or limit marijuana use and possession. Under the CAOA, trafficking in marijuana and distributing marijuana contrary to applicable state law would also be a federal crime, as it is with alcohol. In other words, the CAOA would give states greater autonomy to set their own marijuana laws in response to local preferences. Other provisions of the proposed bill would pave the way for the taxation and regulation of marijuana (treating marijuana much like nutritional supplements) and expunge non-violent cannabis offenses.
The question isn’t whether there’s a stretch of the commerce clause that can serve to justify the feds sticking their noses into local state criminal issues. There is, provided one squints really hard and believes that if you click the heels of your boots three times, everything falls under the Commerce Clause.
The point is that the federal involvement in marijuana was because there was a time when fear of drugs was a dominant political issue, with most of the nation supporting tough on crime law, harsher sentences, increased law enforcement, and any politician who wanted to get elected could hop on the drug train and ride it all the way to D.C.
Marijuana ended up on Schedule I in 1970, as its use became common among hippies and yippies protesting the Vietnam War and going to really great concerts. Maybe Nixon was doing it to oppress black people, but the evidence of that is dubious. No matter, as federal involvement with pot wasn’t about saving the nation from Reefer Madness, but giving pols a commonly-used drug upon which to harangue its evils and promise he would save the children from its evil influence.
Eliminating the federal prohibition would not only give states greater control over marijuana within their jurisdictions. It would also eliminate the distortions and perverse incentives created by the way federal marijuana prohibition interacts with tax law, banking regulation, firearm background checks, and immigration law. Treating marijuana more like alcohol would further mean states would continue to receive federal assistance in combatting interstate trafficking—and it would be easier to focus federal resources in this way without the federal prohibition overhang.
Love weed or hate weed, this shift will put it back where it belongs, in the hands of states who can decide whether to decriminalize it, legalize it or continue to treat it as a plague upon the nation. All this accomplishes is getting the feds out of the pot prosecution business, a place they never should have been in the first place. Amen.