Time to Overhaul Our Marijuana Laws

Posted on March 21, 2014


Marijuana laws vary widely by state, creating a confusing and frankly unfair patchwork of legal pitfalls and penalties for the public.

Marijuana is legal for medical purposes in 20 states and in DC.  It is legal to grow it, sell it, and consume it for pleasure in Washington State and Colorado.    As Wikipedia’s summary shows, more than a dozen states have “decriminalized” cannabis to some extent, levying only civil penalties or allowing certain limited amounts or uses.  Then there are a couple of dozen states in which it is just plain illegal, with penalties ranging from fines and probation up to possible life imprisonment (ouch).  The rest of the states are somewhere in between… and then there is the Federal government, which can be pretty harsh when it comes to marijuana offenses.

I’m not personally a fan of marijuana, and I definitely think its use should be banned in any circumstance where intoxication is a bad thing – driving, operating heavy machinery, operating on patients – but with some states outright legalizing it, the legal disparities between the states are now so wide as to be unfair.

Is it fair that someone with a medical marijuana prescription, who uses it legally, can’t get a gun permit on the basis that marijuana is illegal?

Is it fair that you can openly smoke pot on your front porch in Colorado, while Leon and Mary Adams of Philadelphia lose their home because a relative sold $20 worth of pot on their front porch?

Is it fair that parents in California may lose custody  of their children for their legal medical use of marijuana – because this is a “threat” to the children -, while a father in Washington State grows medical marijuana to treat his five-year-old son’s severe seizures?

Is it fair that growing pot is legal in multiple states, yet in multiple other states you can lose your property if your tenant grows pot without your knowledge?

Is it fair that people legally open medical-marijuana shops in states like California, only to have the Feds threaten the owners with asset forfeiture for violating the Federal statutes?

Is it right that some people are serving decades, or even life sentences, for pot offenses while others can legally grow it, sell it, and use it just because they are in a different zip code?

Does it make any sense at all, in our overcrowded prison system, to arrest some 750,000 people per year for pot… to spend a billion dollars on incarcerating people for pot?

Such extreme contrasts barely scratch the surface of our patchwork of state and Federal laws on marijuana.  Maybe it’s time to work on something closer to a sensible national consensus.