PHOENIX, (Ariz.) – Yesterday, an Arizona House committee held a hearing on a bill that would legalize marijuana for adult use in the state despite federal prohibition.
Rep. Randall Friese (D-Tucson) introduced House Bill 2657 (HB2657) on Jan. 30. The legislation would legalize the possession, use and purchase of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and over. It would also establish the State Marijuana Board to regulate the commercial cultivation and sale of cannabis in the state.
On Feb. 10, the House Regulatory Affairs Committee held a hearing on the bill. The legislation was discussed but there was no vote.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Arizona legalized medical marijuana in 2011 despite federal prohibition. Legalization of recreational marijuana would remove yet another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the Grand Canyon State, but federal prohibition would remain in effect. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Arizona joins a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice.
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019.
With 33 states including allowing cannabis for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
The push to legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona underscores another important strategic reality. Once a state legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way – it tends to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These new laws represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.
The House Government Affairs Committee needs to schedule a vote and pass HB2657 by a majority before it can move forward in the legislative process.
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