CLEVELAND, Ohio – Listening to academics in bow ties talk about pot left me lightheaded.
I had never tried to injest pot like this before. No bong. No joint. Instead, I inhaled “vertical Federalism,” “local preemption,” “interstate commerce” and “dual regime,” whatever that is.
I ultimately came away high on, or, at least a little smarter about, the legal issues burning in the two dozen states that have legalized the medical use of marijuana and in Colorado and Washington, where adult recreational consumption is allowed.
The academics were not just blowing smoke. They are among the nation’s top experts on the legal quagmire created by state laws that legalize marijuana use and federal laws that prohibit its use.
In other words, marijuana is the battleground of federalism. Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Adler brought the experts together Friday for a conference called “Marijuana, Federal Power and the States.”
I popped in Friday morning because all these issue are relevant to us. Ohio continues to flirt with a ballot initiative that would legalize the medical use of marijuana, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald – a former FBI man – just declared his support for medical marijuana use.
(Personally, I can’t forget the dude who got high sitting next to me on a ski lift last February on our way to Breckenridge’s Peak Six in Colorado. I’m still unsure if the state’s law is a good thing.)
So, now that my mind has cleared a bit, here are a few takeaways from the session I attended featuring law professors Brannon Denning of Samford University’s Cumberland Law School; Robert Mikos of Vanderbilt University Law School and Ernest Young of Duke Law School.
1.) With laws on the books in two dozen states – and more marijuana laws before voters this November – Ohio residents and lawmakers will eventually face the issue. Neighboring Michigan already allows the medical use of marijuana, which draws Ohio into the debate.
2.) Three members of the U.S. House of Representative from Northeast Ohio – Republican David Joyce and Democrats Marcia Fudge and Tim Ryan — supported an appropriations amendment that passed the House and would block raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in states where medical marijuana is legal. (The U.S. Senate has not yet dealt with it.) The passage of the House amendment is seen as another sign that federal lawmakers want to give states the power to decide whether or not to legalize medical marijuana.
3.) If Ohio voters someday back the legalization of marijuana, local communities will have some ability to regulate the distribution of marijuana. In Colorado, for instance, some suburbs prohibit through zoning laws marijuana dispensaries.
4.) The federal government has largely left alone marijuana users who follow their respective state laws that legalize its use. But the feds have no tolerance for fools who light up on federal land. Duh!
5.) Many politicians, such as Gov. John Kasich and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, don’t support the medical use of marijuana in part because they want to see medical research on the potential benefit of its use. Adler says this is a fake excuse because federal law doesn’t allow such marijuana medical research.
6.) The rules and regulations in the states that legalize marijuana resemble those enacted after Prohibition ended in 1933.
7.) Ohio has a large college population and is a sizable and diverse state, making it ripe for legalizing some form of marijuana use.
8.) Colorado is not making the judgment that federal law is bad. Rather, the state is betting that the Justice Department lacks the willpower and resources to enforce federal law.
9)Though the federal government is not enforcing its marijuana laws in some states, numerous legal questions remain unanswered. Legal experts say the U.S. Constitution will have to be amended to ultimately delineate the responsibility for regulation and enforcement of marijuana laws between the federal and state government. Can you say 28th Amendment?
10.) If potential problems related to legalized marijuana use – such as an increase in crime and accidents – don’t materialize, expect to see a flood of new ballot initiatives — and support for them.
I’m sure you are feeling a little lightheaded by now, but hopefully you too have learned something.
If not, grab some munchies and wait for the feeling to pass.
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Scottish readers: Undecided about the referendum? Please read How the media shafted the people of Scotland and Scottish Independence, Power And Propaganda.