This week, according to many marijuana advocates, Congress announced it was essentially making pot legal. Attorney General Eric Holder stated that the Department of Justice would not interfere with the decisions of the states if they wanted to make marijuana legal for medical use. So, what are the implications?
Issues With Making Pot Legal
First of all, despite what many are saying, the government is not making pot legal. Rather, they are decriminalizing it. The difference between legalization and decriminalization is like coffee and tobacco, respectively.
Anyone can go into a coffee shop and get a cup of coffee, no matter how old you are, no matter where you are, and so forth. With tobacco, it is illegal for anyone under a certain age to possess or use tobacco products, and the tobacco companies are required to put warnings on the packaging.
Decriminalizing marijuana means it is still illegal for the general population to have it. Crossing over into certain states can still get you a significant amount of time in prison should a person decide to bring it over state lines. While it may seem like semantics to some, there is a very big difference by saying that the federal government will not protest states who wish to pass its legalization and making weed legal as a general, nationwide policy.
Further, this new tolerance is not without limits. The federal government said it was willing to look the other way, provided that certain conditions are followed. No minors may be in possession of marijuana. No growing marijuana on public land. Marijuana must be kept out of the hands of gangs and cartels. Decriminalized states must keep marijuana from leaving its boarders.
Clearly, there are some major issues involved with this. How, for example, do we keep the most widely used drug on the face of the earth out of the hands of cartels and gangs who have been growing it for decades now? How do you keep one of their most profitable crops from being sold, without regulation of any type, when they have always and already operate outside the law? The same idea goes for keeping pot out of the hands of minors, and interstate transportation of marijuana.
It remains to be seen just what the threshold of tolerance will be, given that these restrictions are impossible to follow, and how this will be enforced by the states. Additionally, the reason for this change in attitude is “limited investigative and prosecutorial resources.” It therefore stands to reason that, should those resources once again be made available, enforcement of marijuana laws will resume.
Further, because the federal policy remains in place, people still may lose their jobs, may be arrested for investing in marijuana-based businesses, and even lose custody of their children.
The biggest issue, though, is that this is one administration’s approach to marijuana. It could just as easily be revoked by the next administration to take office, depending on what their approach of the legal marijuana debate is.
Still, these restrictions are minor hurdles in the eyes of many activists. As of now, most are happy to enjoy the victory, and making pot legal seems more likely now than ever before.