ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Feb 24, 2021) – Last week, a Maryland House committee held a hearing on a bill that would legalize marijuana despite federal prohibition.
Del. Jazz Lewis (D – Prince George) introduced House Bill 32 (HB32) on Jan 6. The bill would not only legalize personal use of marijuana (including paraphernalia), but also establish licensure of businesses for cultivation and sales, as regulated by the state. Adults – over the age of 21 – could legally possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana and would be able to cultivate up to six plants, as long as they are not accessible by minors. HB32 would also allow for the expungement of some previous cannabis convictions.
On Feb 16, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on HB32. This is an important first step in the legislative process.
While marijuana has become more widely accepted across the U.S., the federal government still claims it is illegal. As we’ve seen with immigration sanctuary cities, when state and local enforcement ends, the federal government has an extremely difficult time enforcing their acts.
Under the 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 marijuana 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.
Maryland’s legalization of personal use and its medical marijuana program, remove a layer of laws prohibiting and punishing the possession and use of marijuana. The passage of HB32 would expand that, but federal prohibition remains in place. 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 annual 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 either. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Maryland 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. South Dakota, New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election and Mississippi legalized medicinal cannabis.
With 36 states now allowing cannabis for medical use, and 15 legalizing for recreational adult-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 marijuana in Maryland underscores another important strategic reality. Once a state removes restrictions on 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 Judiciary Committee needs to bring HB32 up for a vote and pass it with a majority in order for it to continue on in the legislative process.
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