BATON ROUGE, La. (March 31, 2022) – Two bills introduced in the Louisiana House would help expand the state’s medical marijuana market and set the stage for the recreational legalization of marijuana despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
Rep. Candace Newell (D) filed House Bill 125 (HB125) on Feb. 22. Rep. Edmond Jordan (D) filed House Bill 430 (HB430) on March 3. Under current law, the state of Louisiana can only license two marijuana producers to serve the medical market. Louisiana currently has some of the highest prices for medical marijuana in the U.S. Cannabis advocates say the high cost is tied to supply shortages due to the lack of growers.
Both HB125 and HB430 would create a structure to license more marijuana producers. HB125 would authorize 10 licenses. HB430 would authorize up to 15.
More cultivators would likely lower marijuana costs and open up the medical market further. Newell said it would also put the state in a better position to meet demand when marijuana is completely legalized.
“Once recreational marijuana is made legal on a state level or it is made legal on a federal level, we won’t have to play catchup,” she said.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
All of this is illegal according to the federal government.
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 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.
Louisiana legalized medical marijuana in 2015, but there wasn’t any viable program in the state until the passage of two laws the following year. The state has expanded the program several times since then. It also decriminalized marijuana possession in 2021. This removed a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the state even though federal prohibition remains 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
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, Virginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action.
With 37 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 18 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. As Tenth Amendment Center Executive Director Michael Boldin noted, “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 move to further expand the medical marijuana market 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.
Both HB125 and HB430 were referred to the House Judiciary Committee. The bills must receive a hearing and pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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