CANNABIS CULTURE – On January 4th 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced his office had repealed an Obama-era piece of regulation known as the Cole Memo. With this ruling, the current administration began a rollback of state-control over cannabis use and reinvigorated the drug war. What was the Cole memo and what will this move mean for American cannabis users?
In some states, it is only legal for medical use and research, while in others, it is legal for personal or recreational use. You can expect expanded cannabis use measures to appear on future ballots in the other 21 states. Even if they don’t want cannabis legalized, other states are decriminalizing it by not prosecuting those who possess or use it. This frees up law enforcement to pursue crimes that are actually important, like theft and violence.
Federal Law Has Not Changed
Despite all these changes in state laws regarding cannabis and its use, federal law has not changed. Cannabis is still illegal under federal law. In fact, cannabis, under federal law, is classified as a schedule one narcotic, the same as heroin, LSD and cocaine.
Legal authorities under the Obama Administration refused to change federal law but did meet with representatives of states which had legalized cannabis to come up with a memorandum of understanding. In a sense, they agreed to disagree.
The Obama Administration made clear that these states were in violation of federal law, but also made clear that the federal government would respect the will of those states citizens and their vote. The product of these meets was the Cole Memo, named after Deputy Attorney General James Cole.
It was an outline of what the federal government would not tolerate in regards to cannabis, while still respecting the states’ laws. This included keeping cannabis away from children, prosecuting those who drove under the influence of cannabis, keeping state-grown cannabis confined to that state and other reasonable safety measures. That seemed to keep the peace until now.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, under the Trump Administration, has put these states on warning that he intends to remove the laissez-faire policies of the Obama Administration and restore the federal government’s rights to enforce its rules.
Thankfully, we do not have armed National Guard soldiers invading sovereign states to enforce federal laws against cannabis. However, since federal law supersedes state law, there are still many roadblocks to full legal use and acceptance of cannabis in our society.
- Medical Research
Before the Federal Drug Administration can approve a drug, it must be tested for effectiveness and intended uses. The process can take years under the best of circumstances. Once a drug is approved, it has to go through a clinical trial — testing on people — before it can be publicly prescribed.
Since cannabis is a Schedule I narcotic and a controlled substance under federal law, researchers have an even more difficult time getting the legal authority to conduct the tests. Even in states where cannabis is legal, doctors and scientists have been forced to go overseas to conduct their research in more progressive, open-minded environments.
- Insurance Prices
Obamacare was heralded as an inexpensive way to give medical insurance to all. It didn’t really work out that way for some people, as their premiums continued to rise with no expansion of coverage.
Republicans threatened to repeal and replace it the moment they got the chance. After seven or so years to prepare and gaining control of the House, Senate and the White House, they have been unable to make any changes whatsoever.
California health plans now include insurance plans specific to cannabis use. As part of the plans’ regulation and funding, Californians will vote on a measure to tax cannabis at affordable rates. This includes:
- A $9.25 per ounces tax on medical cannabis flowers
- A $2.75 tax on cannabis leaves
- A $1.25 tax on cultivating plants
The money obtained through these taxes would go not toward the state general fund but back into state cannabis production and research, as well as into environmental cleanup.
Imagine if the federal government lifted its reigns on cannabis and we could implement such measures state-to-state. It could expand cannabis research and likely lower insurance prices.
- Military Services
The branches of the United States military are under federal laws and cannot support the use of cannabis. This is despite the research showing cannabis has been effective in treating chronic pain, PTSD and addiction withdrawals.
Until recently, you weren’t allowed to join the military if you admitted to using cannabis, even if it occurred years ago. There have been some changes in these attitudes. The U.S. Air Force recently announced prior use of cannabis would not disqualify current personnel or potential recruits.
But veterans still cannot be treated with medical cannabis, regardless of its successes in other medical environments. Health providers at the Department of Veterans Affairs are not legally allowed to recommend cannabis as any form of treatment.
- Employment Discrimination
Cannabis is illegal under federal law. Federal government employees must remain free of cannabis use or risk losing their jobs. Regardless of what rules your state has on its books, you are at risk, too.
Employers can test employees for cannabis use and legally fire them for positive results. They could have done nothing else wrong and be a top performer, and it wouldn’t matter when they used it. Having signs of it in their urine or hair follicles would be legal cause to fire them.
Cannabis use is frowned upon by other professionals, and its use could be cause for losing their licenses. They might not be breaking the law in their state, but they will always be breaking federal law or assisting someone to break the law.
- Housing Discrimination
If you live in federally subsidized housing, such as Section 8, you are not legally allowed to use cannabis. It all goes back to the fact that, legally, cannabis is a Schedule I narcotic and a controlled substance. While tenants are not tested for cannabis, any complaints filed against them — or any evidence of cannabis use during a home inspection — could result in a disqualification or an eviction.
If a lease specifies illegal drugs cannot be used on the premises, then landlords can use that language as a cause for eviction, regardless of state law.
- Firearms Restriction
A gun shop in Nevada refused to sell a woman a gun because she flaunted her medical cannabis card. The shop owner cited federal law against selling guns to illegal drug users.
After a lengthy legal battle, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals supported the shop owner. It quoted a congressional opinion that drug use “increases the risk of irrational or unpredictable behavior with which gun use should not be associated.”
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives changed its paperwork to support this position. Gun buyers must now acknowledge that cannabis is illegal under federal law when they purchase firearms.
Not to end with more bad news, but under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, there is no hope for any change of attitude at the federal government. AG Sessions has publicly said that medical cannabis is unsafe and that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
Earlier this month he announced he would be rescinding the Cole Memo, as he and his legal team thought it was not legally valid anyway. This opens the door for legally operated cannabis business at risk for federal prosecution.
California’s cannabis laws went into effect January 1st. It’s now legal to use cannabis recreationally in California, and business can get licensed to sell it. But since cannabis is still illegal under federal law, banks won’t give cannabis businesses bank accounts, nor will they allow them to accept credit cards. Fear is forcing cannabis businesses to operate as a cash-only business, which can give rise to many other problems.
Jeff Sessions intends to regress and turn back the advances made in the acceptance and use of cannabis. It’s sad to see the leader of our legal system so out of step with the attitudes and demands of its people. And the federal government needs to stop fighting the will of the people.
Moving Forward With Open Minds
Change can take a long time. Propaganda and old ways of thinking can entrench themselves into a frightened society. Regardless of your stance on the legality of cannabis use, couldn’t we all agree doctors and scientists should be able to research the positive uses of cannabis, unfettered by our closed-minded government?
If the federal government’s laws supersede state laws, why have state laws? This is open for debate, to be sure, but shouldn’t one state honor another state’s laws, at least in regard to its citizens?
Until federal law recognizes state laws or a change comes at the federal level, cannabis will be illegal. If you choose to use it, even in legalized states, you could still put some of your freedoms at risks. This is a really skewed way to approach lawmaking, and these attitudes and laws need to change.