Opinion: Federal government needs to catch up on marijuana

Nicholas+Hunter

Nicholas Hunter

Nicholas Hunter

One by one, states in the U.S. are legalizing marijuana. Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C. have legalized medical marijuana, though the law in three of these states is not yet effective. Eight states have legalized recreational marijuana use. 

This is a good thing; the “War on Drugs” by the Nixon administration in the ’70s led to marijuana being classified as a Schedule I narcotic — meaning the federal government believes it possesses “no currently accepted medical use in the United States,” as well as “a high potential for abuse.”

As a Schedule I drug, it puts marijuana on the same danger level as heroin, LSD and ecstasy, meaning it is considered more dangerous than opiates — a narcotic considered Schedule II and is causing a public health crisis here in Northeastern Ohio.

Under federal law, you can face up to five years in prison and pay up to $250,000 in fines for first-offense possession. For a second time, those penalties can double.

And while states have legalized marijuana, the federal laws are still in place in those states.

Even if the local and state government have opened the doors for legal marijuana use, federal penalties are still possible if federal law enforcement notices.

This isn’t just a theoretical possibility, either; White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the Trump administration expects federal law enforcement to crack down on recreational marijuana use, even in legal states.

In that press conference, Spicer equated recreational marijuana use to the opiate crisis.

When you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people,” Spicer said.

Beyond this fundamental misunderstanding of marijuana, Spicer is making a grave mistake in equating these two issues.

His statement undermines the crisis that is destroying communities.

While marijuana can be habitually addictive, it is not the destructive force that opiates and other hard drugs are — and the laws need to reflect that.

Throwing people in prison and hitting them with fines larger than an average year’s salary for possessing or smoking pot only ends in ruining lives.

Instead, the federal government should consider the benefits of legalizing marijuana.

It can bring in loads of tax revenue from legal sales, as well as massively reduce drug-related arrests, which in turn can decrease prison populations and allow law enforcement to focus on more important issues.

States are seeing the benefits of legalizing marijuana and taking action. It’s time for the federal government to catch up.

Nicholas Hunter is a columnist, contact him at [email protected]