Study says states can legalize marijuana despite federal ban

medical marijuanaWith several pending bills in Congress aimed at clarifying the role of state governments in regulating marijuana, the bipartisan Congressional Research Service recently took a swing at the issue, releasing a legal analysis aimed at helping lawmakers understand the ramifications of the proposed laws.

The analysis found that that there may some wiggle room when it comes to interpreting the Controlled Substances Act, which makes marijuana illegal under federal law.
One section of the Controlled Substances Act seems to suggest that “Congress did not intend to entirely occupy the regulatory field concerning controlled substances or wholly supplant traditional state authority in the area … States remain free to pass laws relating to marijuana, or other controlled substances, so long as they do not create a “positive conflict” with federal law, such that the two laws “cannot consistently stand together,” the analysis found.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), who has introduced a bill that would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, said the analysis give Congress some solid legal footing to act. The report finds that the federal government cannot compel states to prohibit marijuana use within their borders, according to a statement on Polis’s website.
I’ve long believed that Colorado, Washington and other states that have decriminalized or legalized marijuana for personal or medical use have acted within the legal bounds of the law,” Polis said.

“I am pleased to see that Congress’s research agency has interpreted the law the same way. With a majority of Americans now supporting marijuana legalization, and more states acknowledging every election cycle that the War on Drugs has failed, I hope that the Department of Justice will conduct and release a legal analysis that is as thorough as that done by CRS. If they do, they are sure to reach the same conclusion: it is perfectly legal for states to regulate marijuana as they see fit.”

So far, 19 states and jurisdictions have decriminalized or legalized marijuana for personal or medical use. The full CRS report can be downloaded here. The report also takes a close look at the different options the Justice Department could choose to respond to various state measures.

“While H.R. 499, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which I introduced earlier this year, remains important to establishing a structure to regulate marijuana like alcohol, this validation by the Congressional Research Service that the 10th amendment allows Colorado and Washington’s laws to move forward is a welcome step,” Polis concluded.
But it’s highly unlikely that Congress will pass a bill to decriminalize marijuana. No similar measure has ever even been passed out of a congressional committee. During a March hearing in Congress, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Department of Justice will offer some indication of how it plans to address state legalization of marijuana in the foreseeable future.

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