Annual Meeting

Should the federal government decriminalize marijuana in states where it's legal? ABA House says yes

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Congress should address the conflict between federal and state marijuana laws, the ABA House of Delegates declared on Monday.

Resolution 104 is expressly intended to resolve the disconnect between federal policy that strictly prohibits marijuana and state policies that make it legal for medical or adult recreational use. Though the federal government has permitted many of those state-regulated businesses to operate, federal prohibition has complicated those operations. For example, because banks are afraid that working with marijuana businesses breaks federal law, they are often cash-only businesses, making them attractive to thieves.

“That means it’s more dangerous than it should be [to run a state-regulated marijuana business], and that can’t be good for society,” said professor Stephen Saltzburg of George Washington University Law School, who moved it in the House.

The resolution suggests that Congress solve problems like that by making the Controlled Substances Act’s marijuana provisions inapplicable to conduct that complies with state laws. It also suggests that Congress move marijuana to a less regulated schedule within the CSA or remove the drug from the CSA altogether, and authorize more research into the health effects of marijuana.

Saltzburg pointed out that Resolution 104 neither endorses nor condemns marijuana legalization. Rather, he said the resolution was an effort to deal with the practical problems created by state legalization but federal prohibition.

“You can’t do massive blind studies because everyone who does it is afraid they’ll get prosecuted,” he said. “We should have that research. We ought not to have states and [the federal government] flying blind.”

The measure was not controversial, despite its topic, and supporters waived their time to speak. It passed without audible opposition.

The report for Resolution 104 says 23 states have legalized some form of marijuana for medical purposes. Ten more (including California, the host state for the 2019 annual meeting) permit it for both medical and recreational purposes.

Follow along with our coverage of the 2019 ABA Annual Meeting.

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