How Local Politics Affects Cannabis Laws

Many states are looking at legislation to decriminalize the use of cannabis. The battle is real and being fought on the legislative floor in Maryland to continue the path of decriminalization. Legalization for medicinal purposes isn’t always the challenge, more than making sure what has long been prohibited has legal parameters for possession and distribution after so many years of being a federal and state crime to possess or sell marijuana. Local politics surely affects cannabis laws with Maryland being no different.

Marijuana Laws in Maryland

In Maryland, less than 10 grams of marijuana may be used personally without violating State criminal code. There are civil fines and the sale of marijuana is prohibited. The legal use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is legal in Maryland with regulations still on the table. A medical cannabis patient ID card is required as proof of medical need. Legal battles still rage about retail licenses and building diversity within dispensaries and other businesses popping up to help people find medicinal cannabis.

Federal Battle

Federal law prohibits the use of marijuana. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 puts marijuana as a Schedule I hallucinogenic substance with no medical benefit. This restriction keeps marijuana at the top of the criminalization laws. The penalty at the federal level for possession is 1 year in prison and a fine. Distribution or intent to distribute is punishable by up to 5 years and a $250k fine to start. Penalties grow with amounts or intended amounts to be distributed. Federal law prohibits doctors from prescribing marijuana for medical purposes. Banking laws prohibit transactions relating to the sale of marijuana. Money laundering charges are possible for financial institutions that support the sale of marijuana.

States have been in quite a bind trying to figure out how to manage their local laws while federal laws seem to contradict their goal of decriminalization for medical purposes. Maryland law is facing this challenge as they continue to seek ways of opening doors for people to get help with medical marijuana.

What is Happening?

Cannabis legislation has been a battlefield for some time. States are fighting against federal legislation that restricts industries within the states, including the distribution and use of medical marijuana. The U.S. Constitution states that Federal Law controls State law. Therefore, state laws that decriminalize marijuana while it is federally illegal will not impact the Federal government’s ability to enforce the laws in each state as it sees fit. What is happening so far:

  • Allowance for regulation of medical cannabis in states like Maryland without criminal penalties
  • Only enforce prohibitive laws in cases of distribution to minors, use on Federal lands or property, revenue for criminal enterprises (gangs, cartels)
  • Violence or firearm usage connected to cultivation practices
  • Transportation of cannabis across state lines where it is illegal

Legislation Impact

Clinical studies that might demonstrate the effects of use on consumers are not permitted due to Schedule I status. Without clinical trials being done, surveys of people who consume cannabis and how it affects them are the only markers researchers have. The goal of clinical trials is to also push legislation further to show the many benefits of medicinal cannabis and the use of cannabis in other ways. Without this research, laws continue to be prohibitive, even in Maryland, and a wrestling match between state and federal laws.

The trend is moving towards states deciding to legalize every day. Maryland has legislation pending to legalize personal use as well as growing the use for medicinal purposes. The CARERS Act would bring Federal law to line up with State laws. The goal of this law is to categorize cannabis as a Schedule II substance so doctors can prescribe it and clinical studies will be done to determine the benefits of use. This law would also defer to State law regarding distribution or use of the drug.

These are of course controversial laws and terms of the agreement but at the end of the day, Maryland like other states is working hard to develop autonomy in the fight against the federal prohibition on the use of cannabis, medicinal or otherwise. And they are in it for the long haul.


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