A chance of federal pot decriminalization?

One of the bigger stalemates in the American legal system right now is the disconnect between the federal government and the states on the subject of marijuana decriminalization or legalization. While many states now allow for the legal sale of either medical or recreational marijuana (and more seem to be on the way, as in New York), sale or possession of the drug remains a serious crime at the federal level. But there’s an amendment pending in the Senate which might do something to address this conflict, though its passage seems dubious. (Washington Examiner)

The Senate is expected to vote Tuesday on an amendment that would federally legalize marijuana by allowing states to regulate their own medical and recreational pot markets.

But even one senator can block a vote on the amendment, which would address a longstanding conflict between federal and state law.

Sen. Cory Gardner, D-Colo., is seeking to attach the measure to the First Step Act, a bundle of prison, prisoner re-entry, and sentencing reforms that senators voted 81-12 to advance Monday.

“While we are debating criminal justice reform, we need to address the threat of prosecution by the federal government for people in Colorado that are operating legal businesses under state law,” Gardner said in a statement.

That’s the problem with trying to push this through as an amendment to a larger bill. The proposal would require unanimous consent. And then it would still have to make it through the reconciliation process. If that somehow happened, it sounds like the President would go along with it since he voiced his support for a standalone bill accomplishing the same thing earlier this year.

I’m not here arguing in favor of full legalization across the entire country. Quite the contrary… I think it’s a question best left up to the individual states. But the current situation is simply untenable. I’ve brought this subject up during discussions on social media and asked quite a few lawyers. None could name another situation where some activity is fully legal at the state level and a serious felony under federal law.

This leaves citizens in a very unstable position, whether they are users or business owners looking to move into marijuana sales. The state can tell you that you’re in the clear, but the feds could still come busting down your door without notice and bankrupt you. I’m personally in favor of decriminalization because we waste far too many resources and throw too many people in jail over a product that’s never struck me as being particularly more dangerous than alcohol and probably does less damage to people than tobacco.

But I’m perfectly happy to leave it up to the residents of each state to decide for themselves. The problem is, we can’t seem to gather enough consensus in Congress to make that happen. If any of the members oppose legalization, the proposals on the table now don’t legalize pot for the entire country. They simply open the door for the individual states to make the decision. This entire mess could be cleared up in short order if Congress had any interest in taking care of it.