Strange Politics: Mary Jane’s Conundrum

Politics is strange. It seems like politicians, lawyers, and diplomats all live in their own little world that is only tangentially related to ours. They live by different rules and think different thoughts than the rest of us. Sometimes, this can be downright petty and silly, making it entertaining to watch. Other times, the real-world consequences of this fake-world’s happenings can be huge.

This week, I am introducing a new series on Cat Flag: Strange Politics. In this series, I will show you some of the bizarre, nonsensical, mindbogglingly-weird contortions of the brain that laws and politics make people go through every day. I will present the tortured logic in all of its wacky glory. And I’m starting with an issue that many in California care about: Marijuana.

This plant has had a long history in our country; George Washington is known to have grown it.

For the hemp fiber, of course.

In the mid-19th century, state governments began to regulate chemicals that could be used as medicines or poisons, requiring licences for sellers and either prescriptions or medical research credentials for buyers. Marijuana was one of the substances targeted for controlled distribution by 29 states. At the time, recreational marijuana use was a fashionable upper-class habit, although immigrant workers from Mexico and the Middle East were also known to use the drug. By the early 20th century, though, marijuana was one of several drugs (including opium and coca) that began to get a real stigma attached to them, and more and more countries began to ban the drugs or severely restrict their sale and use. Newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst is known to have contributed to the “pot scare” of the 1930s by pushing anti-marijuana propaganda.

The first federal law regarding marijuana was the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which made it illegal to grow, process, or sell marijuana except for scientific and medical research, and even then it was burdened with a severe tax on all stages of production. This law was on the books until 1969, when the Supreme Court found it unconstitutional.

In 1970, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, a law that was conceived to cover all possible drugs and drug problems in America. Once again, marijuana became illegal, but the interesting – and strange – part is HOW it is illegal under the law.

The Act established a set of lists called “schedules” that are set by the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration. There are five of these schedules, listing all manner of drugs and chemicals. Schedule I drugs are considered the most dangerous, and are the most severely restricted – the DEA only allows a tightly-controlled “production quota” for medical research. Some examples of Schedule I drugs are heroin, ecstasy, peyote, and LSD. Schedule II drugs are also dangerous, but have some medical applications in emergencies and are thus allowed under certain conditions; these include opium, morphine, codeine, adderall, PCP, and methamphetamine. The other schedules get less restrictive as the drugs on the list get less dangerous.

As you can imagine, listing marijuana as a Schedule I drug is rather controversial. Numerous medical studies have shown that marijuana does have a number of medical benefits, and a recent survey of doctors and medical professionals found that most consider marijuana less dangerous than alcohol. Theoretically, the DEA could remove the drug from Schedule I whenever it wanted. But it has not done so, on the argument that they don’t have enough conclusive evidence. Yet they HAVE allowed doctors to prescribe a concentrated pill form of marijuana’s active ingredient, THC, since 1985.

Because this just looks so much safer.

In response, 18 states have decided to jump the gun and legalize medical marijuana themselves. But there is a problem with that, and it has to do with federalism.

See, the Constitution was set up to give some powers to the federal government, and leave the rest up to the states. In those areas of federal concern, the federal government has control and states laws that are incompatible with federal law are invalid. Supreme Court ruled in Gonzales v. Raich that those state medical marijuana laws are unconstitutional because they are in conflict with the Controlled Substances Act.

This should have been the end of it. The Supreme Court’s decision should have put an end to these state experiments with marijuana and left it up to the feds to deal with the drug. Instead, the states just kept right on licensing medical marijuana dispensaries and collectives.

The states' response to the Supreme Court, in a nutshell.

The result is a legal nightmare and disaster. If you live in a state that has legalized medical marijuana, such as California, and decide to set up a dispensary for the drug, it would not matter if you followed state law to the letter – you could still be busted and sent to jail by the DEA and FBI. And you wouldn’t even have a legal defense, because you would be tried in federal court, and all those prescriptions the state made you keep on file would become evidence of your dirty, dirty drug dealing ways.

I am not making that scenario up, by the way. This is exactly what happened to Charles Lynch, a Morro Bay resident who set up a dispensary only to be sent to prison for it. His story made national news, forcing this legal snake pit into the spotlight for all Americans to see. A Gallup poll taken last year shows that more than half of Americans support the legalization of marijuana, and 70% support at least legalizing it for medical uses.

So, in summary, marijuana is illegal. But in some states, it is legal, but you can still be arrested for it, because it is still illegal. And taking a pill that is made from marijuana is perfectly legal, it’s just smoking joints that is a crime. And the government agency that can fix this mess refuses to do so, because the overwhelming evidence of marijuana’s medical benefits is insufficient for their standards. Politics is strange, indeed.

Information for Wikipedia, Reuters, and other sources linked to above.

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One Response to Strange Politics: Mary Jane’s Conundrum

  1. Aaron says:

    What’s up? Crazy contradictions in government regulations. Thanks Robert. Ab

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