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The Legalization of Marijuana

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Charles Mason
April 10, 2020

America’s opinions on medical and recreational marijuana have shifted extraordinarily in a brief period. As of this writing, there are thirty-three states, along with the District of Columbia, which have legalized medical marijuana. There are now eleven states along with the District of Columbia, where recreational marijuana is legal. These haphazard endeavors by different states continue as the federal government steps back and watches. These changes have not happened in a vacuum, as there has been an increase in alcohol, cigarette smoking and motor vehicle crashes when combined with marijuana. There has also been a drop in the perceived harm of marijuana by the general population. This is especially dangerous for adolescents and young adults, as their brains and bodies are still forming.

Within the other seventeen states, the pressure is mounting to act and to act now. Where no action has taken place to legalize medical or recreational marijuana proponents are lauding the therapeutic advantages of marijuana and the missed opportunities for states to garner additional tax revenues for the education of their future; their children. At the same time, citizens, legislators and policymakers in those hold-out states are being informed through mass media campaigns that crime will be reduced, and law enforcement officials can then devote their time to real crime and punishment.

Citizens and public administrators must rationally sift through the incoming data to determine the point at which they must and should act or not act at all. Their research must go beyond a simple observation of national or local news organizations. If local and state public policymakers are to be informed, these public policymakers must seek out public policy scholar-practitioners who can elaborate on both sides of the issues.

Why? If not, the decisions will be shaped by biased lobbyists and advocates that will instruct the population through mass media campaigns with a positive spin. This spin ignores the growing death rate from stroke, heart and lung disease and the increasing marijuana dependency disorders. The media’s representation of the narrative is shaped by the individual or the company’s perspective of the issues. This is partly to blame for the recent dramatic public opinion change as the media has framed marijuana use as a medical concern and not a public health one.

Also, the harsh penalties for use, possession and cultivation led to a swell of support for marijuana reform. When authorities failed to adequately counter the popular notion that marijuana is harmless and conducted raids at night removing people from their homes and in some cases taking possession of those dwellings, the public began to seek an alternative response to the, “War on drugs.”

However, marijuana legalization is not without merit. There has been a reduction in crime in areas where dispensaries are located. Marijuana users have also shifted from opioids. Therefore, we have seen a drop in the death rate due to opioid overdose. Further, by removing marijuana from the penal codes, states have removed a class of crimes that will help in reducing arrests, for the most part.

Nevertheless, this approach is not unified and does not address the many issues at the federal level. This places many professionals, such as over the road truckers, Certified Public Accountants (CPA) and bankers, at a disadvantage. Marijuana issues are still politically polarizing; however, Americans’ changing attitudes towards marijuana must be codified at the federal level to bring the nation together.

This is not to say that the state, which still deems marijuana a threat to public health, needs to be overlooked. However, transactions across neighboring states which legalized marijuana do not require a threat of action from the federal government. That is true of over-the-road truck drivers moving products from state to state. Along with CPAs who are conducting transactions in states where marijuana is legalized, their license or certification should not be jeopardized.

Zero tolerance of marijuana use should not be altered for safety-sensitive jobs such as over-the-road drivers. Currently, the science is not there to determine impairment from an individual use over the weekend. However, bankers and CPAs should be allowed to monitor and certify the transactions of activities in these thirty-three states. The reliance of a cash-only industry will lead to corruption at all levels of the government.

Nonetheless, if the federal government remains paralyzed and these commercial transactions, sanctioned by the state but unsanctioned by the federal government, remain a violation of federal law, the rule of law itself in America will begin to fade. The damage to the respect for the federal authority and its ability to enforce other provisions will be challenged in the courts. It is high time for a straightforward reordering of marijuana laws to augment the potency of the guidelines and focus on existing breakdowns in the strategy.

Public administrators at the federal level can devise a reform initiative by studying the various state models to safeguard the necessary steps that are judicious to ensure the national marijuana reform measure is thorough, encompassing lessons learn from the innovator’s states that have gone before.

Author: Charles Mason MPA, is a Doctoral Candidate at Walden University in Public Policy and Administration with a Specialization in Criminal Justice. He has over 30 plus years in local law enforcement, state corrections and military service. He is currently a leadership and development coach at Mason Academy.

He can be reached at [email protected].

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