DOVER Del. (June 21, 2021) – Last Tuesday, Delaware Gov. John Carney signed a bill into law that expands the state’s medical marijuana program despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
Sen. Ernesto Lopez (R) introduced Senate Bill 60 (SB60) along with a large bipartisan coalition of cosponsors. The new law will expand access to medical marijuana by allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to recommend medicinal cannabis for qualifying patients over the age of 18. Under the old law, only physicians could recommend medical marijuana.
Patients under 18 will still have to get a recommendation to use medical marijuana from a physician specializing in pediatric medicine.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
While marijuana has become more widely accepted across the U.S., under federal law, it remains 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 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.
Delaware legalized medical marijuana in 2011 and removed one layer of laws punishing the possession and use of marijuana in the state, but federal prohibition remains in effect. Expanding access to medical marijuana will allow more patients to use cannabis in the state despite federal law. 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
Connecticut could become the 18th state to legalize adult-use marijuana.
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. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. Earlier this year, New York, New Mexico and Virginia legalized marijuana through legislative action.
With 36 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 17 legalizing for adult recreational 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.
The passage of SB60 highlights another important strategic reality. Once a state legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way – the law 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.