Trying to reconcile state and federal policies on marijuana

California is among 23 states where marijuana is legal for medical purposes. There are another 16 states in which cannabis-derived oils are legal for certain patients. A handful of states have even legalized recreational marijuana, and more states - including California - will consider doing so in 2016 ballot initiatives.

Unfortunately, the push to legalize (or at least decriminalize) marijuana at the state level has created at least one major problem: A disparity between state and federal laws. Pot remains illegal under federal law, which means that jurisdiction in any given case (state vs. federal) could mean the difference between prosecution for drug crimes or permitted use without fear of criminal charges.

The federal war on marijuana is being led by the Drug Enforcement Administration, a decades-old agency with significant power, little oversight and a large annual budget. Many advocates working to help states set and enforce their own marijuana policies have said that the DEA is blocking common-sense drug reforms and continuing to aggressively go after marijuana offenders.

Recently, however, legislators in Washington passed several important amendments to an appropriations bill. These amendments will cut the DEA's budget by a total of $23 million and prohibit the Justice Department (and the DEA) from taking actions that undermine state marijuana laws.

Many states have legalized marijuana for certain uses, yet the DEA continues to spend millions of dollars fighting marijuana possession, sales and other offenses as defined by federal law. At best, this is counterproductive and a huge waste of taxpayer money. At worst, it continues to destroy the lives of non-violent offenders whose actions may no longer be considered crimes under state law.

Source: The Drug Policy Alliance, "Congress Passes Three Amendments to Stop DEA from Undermining State Marijuana Laws," news release, June 3, 2015

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