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For the past two decades, there have been many changes in the drug policies in the United States by the federal government and the individual states themselves. Many cities, states and counties across the United States have been trying in vain to control the national problem of drug use and abuse because the policy of the federal government of prohibition without treatment does not work in eliminating the problem of illegal drug use. The main controversial issue that has arisen out of the laws governing the use of medical marijuana is the question of whether marijuana holds any form of medical value to its users. The federal drug laws on marijuana recognize marijuana as an illicit and an outlawed drug that has no medical value attached to it (Caldwell 3).
This Federal law on the use of drugs is contradicted by many state, county and federal laws that govern the use of marijuana. Fifteen states in the United States like Colorado, California and Alaska have enacted their own marijuana laws that contradict the federal law on marijuana. These states have recognized the medical value attached to the use of marijuana and have allowed the use of medical marijuana in certain instances. Despite the pressure put on the federal government to review and liberalize marijuana laws in the United States, the federal government has rejected the policy and has failed to recognize the ability of the federal states to regulate the use of marijuana, as they would like to (Stout).
Many Americans support the use of marijuana for medical purposes only. Pollsters have indicated that most Americans welcome the liberalization of federal marijuana laws to allow states to regulate the use of marijuana as they deem it fit. However, despite the pleas by the public for the liberalization of the laws governing the use of medical marijuana, the federal government has remained adamant of the move and has retained the prohibitive laws on the use of medical marijuana. The existence of both federal laws and state laws that govern the use of the marijuana in the United States elicits some conflicts in the implementation of these laws (Caldwell 5).
This paper examines the conflict between the federal and individual federal state laws that govern the use of medical marijuana and the broader issues at stake i.e. the issues about federalism in the United States and the right of the individual federal states r to regulate the use of drugs in their regions. The paper also highlights the California and Colorado medical marijuana laws and programs that allow the use of medical marijuana as an example of a successful medical marijuana programs that can be applied in other states as well in the United States. The paper also examines the specific concerns that the liberalization of laws governing the use of marijuana raises in the United States.
The federal government of the United States regulates all forms of drugs in the United States through the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) .This act does not in any way recognize or allow the use of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. The controlled substances act stipulations on the use of marijuana apply only to the people, who cultivate, possess and distribute large quantities of marijuana (Caldwell).
Under the controlled substances act laws marijuana is considered a controlled substance like any other drug like heroin or cocaine. The federal government therefore classifies marijuana as a schedule 1 drug .This means that the federal government regards marijuana to be a drug with no medical value and a very highly addictive drug whose use should be prohibited. The federal law also prohibits the prescription of marijuana for any type of medical use although doctors can recommend the use of the drug under the first amendment law of the American constitution (Caldwell 6).
The Drug Enforcement Administration (EDA) is the body charged by the federal government with the duty of enforcing drug laws .The body targets all users of marijuana users ranging from medical patients, distributors and cultivators. Federal marijuana laws are very severe and for the people found guilty of possessing marijuana, the punishment is very severe. Federal marijuana laws still regard marijuana as a dangerous drug that is illegal and Unacceptable for use even on medical grounds. In many federal cases, the judges mainly regard the defense that the use or possession of marijuana for medical grounds does not qualify as defense in courts although divorce lawyers can try to raise the issue if it is possible in a marijuana trail (ASA).
This federal law applies to all the states in the United States even in the states that have enacted their own marijuana laws. A medical marijuana user can be arrested for the possession or use of marijuana in any state under the federal law. Under the federal sentencing laws for marijuana possession outlined by the sentencing commission of the United States, the sentencing takes into account the amount of marijuana a convict has and the number of previous convictions for the same offense. After sentencing a convict for illegal possession of marijuana, the convict must serve a minimum of 85 percent of the sentence (ASA).
The amount of marijuana present also determines whether one gets probation or a jail term. The higher the amount of bhang a person is found in possession with, the severe the punishment. For example, a one kg of marijuana with no previous convictions for marijuana possession attracts six to twelve months jail sentence while a 2.5 kg of marijuana with previous criminal record attracts up to a three-year jail sentence (Bill).
There are also mandatory basic jail sentences that apply to possession and cultivation of large amounts of marijuana. For example possession or cultivation of marijuana, weighing over 100 kilograms attracts a five-year minimum jail sentence. For convicts who have a prior record of drug convictions, possession of a 100 kilograms of marijuana attracts a jail sentence of minimum ten years. Possession or cultivation of 1000 kilograms of marijuana attracts a minimum of ten years jail sentence while for those with prior criminal drug convictions , the sentence can be as long as twenty years in prison (Bill).
Conflict between the federal laws on the use of medical marijuana and the state laws on medical marijuana
The federal laws on the use of marijuana prohibit outlined in the Controlled Substances Act limit the use of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes across all the states in the United States. The Supreme Court ruled in the year 2005 that the federal government has the constitutional right to ban the use of marijuana for any purpose. Thus, the federal government has the right to prosecute even the patients who use marijuana for medical purposes even when they reside in a state that allows the use of marijuana for medical purposes or even if they grow their own marijuana for their own use. This is where the conflict arises because the federal law on the use of marijuana does not invalidate the individual state laws on the use of marijuana neither does it declare them unconstitutional. The federal laws do not preempt the state laws that allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes only (Gostin).
Fifteen states in the United States have recognized the medical value of marijuana and have passed laws that allow the use of medical marijuana. California and Colorado are the states that are most open-minded about the use of medical; marijuana .These two states have statewide marijuana shops supported by the government. These states have recognized the need to take the responsibility for the welfare and the health of their people and have implemented the medical marijuana laws well. Under the federal law, the federal government rather than the individual federal states are the ones entrusted with the power to police the use of medical marijuana because of this division of responsibilities between the federal government and the state governments (Wilson).
There is a conflict in the implementation of federal laws on the use of marijuana and implementation of individual state laws on marijuana. This case is complex especially in the states having laws that permit the use of marijuana. For example, under the Californian and Colorado state medical marijuana laws, patients and caregivers of medical marijuana are exempted from the prosecution by the Californian and Colorado state laws on marijuana but they can be prosecuted under the federal government laws on marijuana use (ASA).
The case of the conflicting state and federal laws on marijuana illustrates the faulty application of the concept of federalism in the United States. The existence of both the federal laws on marijuana use and state laws on marijuana use makes the use of medical marijuana in the states that allow the use of marijuana both legal and illegal. The status quo puts’ the law enforcement agencies against others in the implementation of drug laws in the same territory. The status quo also makes American citizens to be pulled in opposite directions at once. The federal government must recognize the state statues that regulate the use of marijuana. The regulation of the illegal trafficking of marijuana falls under the interstate clause on commerce and therefore the use of marijuana for medical purposes does not violate the sovereignty of the federal government (Bill).
If the federal laws are allowed to reign over the state marijuana laws means that the united states suffers from the pressures of the arise from the powers of central rule meaning that there is no dignity for state laws. It is apparent that the United States government does not have a clear definition of which laws to follow while regulating marijuana in the states that allow the use of medical marijuana. In addition, there are instances where the federal government trespasses on the domains of the state government in marijuana control (Wilson).
The United States attorney general issued a decree that clarified that the US government will not prosecute the patients and the distributors of medical marijuana in the states that have allowed the use of medical marijuana in2005. However, the attorney general also clarified that the federal government will not relent in arresting and prosecuting drug traffickers who traffic huge amounts of the drugs under the disguise of providing medical marijuana. This proviso has resulted in many violations of state laws governing marijuana laws because the distributors and the patients of medical marijuana in the states that allow the use of medical marijuana are arrested often under the suspicion of trafficking drugs (ASA).
For example, agents of the drug enforcement agency raided the home of Diane monsoon in 2002 and confiscated cultivated plants of bhang as per the guidelines of the controlled substance act of the United States. A trial ensued because monsoon being a residence of California was allowed to grow the plant for medical uses under the compassionate use act of California enacted in 1996. Monsoon eventually won the case and was allowed to retain the cannabis plants (Caldwell, 11).
Californian and Colorado are the states in the united states that are most open about the use of pot for medicinal purposes California passed the law legalizing the use of marijuana in 1996 while Colorado passed the law in 2000 these states alongside 13 other states in the united states allow the legal use of medical marijuana. The states have a medical marijuana program that regulates the supply, qualification for prescription and registration issues in their regions. In most of these states the federal; government regulates the use of medical marijuana through issuing medical marijuana identity cards to the people who qualify. These cards provide immunity from prosecution to patients and care givers under the federal laws on controlled substance act (Gostin).
Provided a patient or a caregiver qualifies to be issued with the medical marijuana card and is issued with the identification card as per the health and safety codes identified by the state laws, then he/she qualifies for exemption from prosecution under the federal government laws. The medical marijuana cards specify the limits in which a patient or a caregiver is supposed to possess at any one time to prevent the misuse of the state provisions on the use of medical marijuana. To be issued with the medical card most states charge a small fee. More men than women have applied for the medical marijuana card. The reason is that there are more men smokers of weed in the United States than there are women (Stout).
The number of the states, counties and cities that have legalized the use of medical cannabis continue to increase in the United States. Many people in America welcome of the idea of legalizing the use of medical marijuana in the United States, However, the legalization of the use of medical marijuana in many states across the United States does not solve the underlying legal problem of conflict between the state and the federal laws on marijuana use. For example, many federal government guidelines that exist prevent physicians and doctors from prescribing marijuana in treatment in a formal way. For example, physicians can recommend medical marijuana to a patient. However, doctors are only limited to including their signed statements in a patients health file and advising that the use of medical marijuana can prove beneficial in alleviating some symptoms of a number of a number of health conditions like nausea , cancer HIV and aids, chronic, muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis and seizures but not administering marijuana (Bill).
Federal laws on marijuana use recommended by the Controlled Substance act also prohibit doctors from directing patients on the specific centers where they may obtain medical marijuana. Medical marijuana Patients have therefore must seek on their own the centers that offer medical marijuana or grow cannabis on their own for their own use. Another example of the prohibitive nature of the federal laws on marijuana use is the procedure used in arrest by federal agencies on the users of medical marijuana. When federal agents arrest a medical marijuana user for crimes of possession or cultivation of marijuana, the patient should not tell the police that he /she is a registered medical marijuana user because it remains illegal under the federal law(Gostin).
Instead, the patient should assert his Fifth Amendment right of remaining silent because anything the patient shares with federal agents can be used against them in court. It is also good to talk to federal agents in the presence of an attorney. This case does not apply to state police agents because the patient can share information on the possessions of a valid medical marijuana card if charged with the crime of possession and cultivation of medical marijuana. These restrictions imposed by the Controlled Substances Act of restrict the use of medical marijuana even in the states that have legalized the use of medical marijuana (Wilson).
The laws regulating the use of medical marijuana in the United States are confusing and somehow complicated especially in the states that allow the use of medical marijuana. The many interpretations there are of these laws means that Americans are always confused on the applicability of these laws in some situations. The laws are sometimes silent on key issues whose violations might land somebody in jail. For example, the recommended limits of medical marijuana each person should possess at any time varies from state to state (Wilson). To comply with the laws, it is essential that the users of medical marijuana to adhere strictly to the protection that is offered by the state medical marijuana laws. An application of the commonsense and deep knowledge of these laws is essential to avoid the potential for prosecution for drug crimes.
Although the Drug Enforcement Agency has guidelines from the United States attorney general that limits it from prosecuting cannabis patients with valid medical marijuana cards in the states that allow the use of medical marijuana, prosecution by federal agents remains a possibility even for registered medical marijuana patients. In the case of Gonzales and Reich, the US Supreme Court ruled that the federal law on the controlled substances act supersedes any other state medical marijuana laws (Gostin).
Although The Drug Enforcement Agency does have, an informal policy that makes it avoid getting involved in cases of possession of marijuana less than 100 plants for medical use only, federal prosecution remains a possibility. Cases of federal prosecution for registered medical marijuana users are one percent of all the registered medical marijuana users (ASA). A licensed medical marijuana user therefore greatly reduces the chances of federal prosecution.
The conflict between the state and federal laws governing the use of medical marijuana has persisted to this day. The recent ruling by the Supreme Court in the Gonzales versus Reich case that cultivation and possession of marijuana is illegal even when the individual states have passed laws legalizing the use of medical marijuana has only added ambiguity into the whole situation. The federal laws certainly prohibit the possession of marijuana while the state laws regulate the use of medical marijuana (Gostin).
These laws are very ambiguous on how the two governments interact with each other on enforcement of the laws. The controversy created by the conflicting raises the question of whether the use of medical marijuana is a right that can be held by an individual American. The recent decision of the supreme court even raises more questions regarding the right of each individual states in the United States to pass their own legislations’ on the use of medical marijuana. The fierce debate raised by the two conflicting laws represents the controversy that has arisen out of the societal changing ideologies and values regarding the use of medical marijuana. Marijuana as a drug has a wide spread use all over the globe. This popularity has therefore brought alert around the globe, with International community making laws in an attempt to curb the use of Marijuana. Although, Marijuana has advantages, its disadvantages are devastating, and therefore, its use should be highly regulated to ensure it is only used in the right way.