BATON ROUGE, La. (June 23, 2021) – Last week, Louisiana Gov. John Bell Edwards signed a bill into law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
Rep. Cedric Glover (D) introduced House Bill 652 (HB652) on April 4. Under the new law, possession of up to 14 grams of marijuana is punishable by a fine of up to $100 with no threat of jail time.
In his signing statement, Bell downplayed the law, saying “contrary to the narrative developed in the press and elsewhere, [HB652] does not decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.” But as Marijuana Moment noted, “replacing the threat of incarceration with a modest fine does fit the definition of decriminalization used by reform advocates.”
While marijuana has become more widely accepted across the U.S., it remains illegal under federal law. 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.
Louisiana’s decriminalization of cannabis, along with its medical marijuana program, removes a layer of laws prohibiting and punishing the possession and use of marijuana.
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
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.