Celebrating 4/20 and the Progress of Marijuana Legalization in the U.S.
Legal scholar shares his knowledge of marijuana law, the cannabis industry, and the path to legalization on the plant’s national holiday.
By: Katherine Gianni and Giana Carrozza
With nicknames like the “Devil’s Lettuce” and the “Sinner’s Spinach,” it’s no secret that marijuana use still conjures up a stigma. On the federal level, marijuana is categorized as a schedule one substance, based on its medical use, potential for abuse, and safety or risk for dependence. Alongside pot, US lawmakers consider four other drugs as schedule one substances: LSD, magic mushrooms, ecstasy, and heroin. Although many states have begun legalizing recreational marijuana–the number currently stands at 18–questions about equity and incarceration rates for possession of the drug still remain. According to the ACLU, “Black people are 3.6 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite similar usage rates.”
While significant work still remains to destigmatize marijuana use, and rectify past policies on the sale and distribution of the drug, cannabis experts indicate that the smoke is beginning to clear. In the healthcare field, many doctors are recommending and prescribing medical marijuana, especially for patients diagnosed with cancer or epilepsy. The cannabis industry has also proven itself to be hugely profitable in legalized states with some economists projecting a market value of $30 billion annually by 2025. For a deeper analysis on the future of marijuana law and use in the US, we turned to Boston University professor and lawyer Jay Wexler. At BU, professor Wexler runs the Cannabis Law Externship and teaches classes on the emerging area of cannabis law, legal ethics and professional responsibility. He recently took to Reddit to host a unique conversation about cannabis legalization, consumption, regulation, and much more. The top takeaways from his conversation showcase both the widespread interest in this subject and the numerous uncertainties that still remain.
1) First things first…
Wexler explains the pathway that led him to study marijuana law and policy and what the field means to him.
2) Using the correct terminology for marijuana can be tricky.
From medical terminology to slang references, there are so many unique ways to refer to marijuana that the choice can feel confusing or overwhelming. Wexler shares his preferred term while defining some of the others.
3) Be aware of the misconceptions surrounding use.
While Wexler says public perception around the plant (in its many forms) has continued to evolve over the last decade, there are still people who are intent on spreading false information.
4) Marijuana is generally not very addicting compared to other schedule one substances.
Wexler details the federal government’s stance on marijuana, noting that every individual can have a different experience with the drug.
5) Legalization will come down to the states and federal enforcement.
Wexler says the federal government would ideally keep weed illegal, leaving each state to decide on legalization policies individually.
6) Legalization should (hopefully) include expungement of criminal records.
Conversations about legalization often spark the question of whether those who were convicted for marijuana possession would get their criminal record expunged. Wexler says some states are already moving towards this action.
7) Legalization will affect in-state commerce laws.
Issues of state commerce clauses and cannabis growing will be points of contention if/when it is legalized.
8) There are growing concerns about equity within cannabis dispensary ownership.
The financial benefits of being a dispensary owner are substantial, but Wexler says states must turn their focus on equity within ownership.
9) Legalization will be inevitable in the next few years.
There is however, no way to predict the exact amount of time.
10) Medical marijuana is here to stay.
Medical marijuana will continue to be used and distributed even if all marijuana is legalized in the U.S.
11) A main goal of federal legalization is to reduce the number of local dealers.
Wexler explains that the federal government hopes to eliminate the “black market” for marijuana if/when it is legalized.
12) And finally…the question we’ve all been waiting for.
Better Call Saul…
For additional commentary by Boston University experts, follow us on Twitter @BUExperts. Follow Professor Jay Wexler at @SCOTUSHUMOR and BU’s School of Law at @BU_Law. For updates on Wexler’s upcoming book WEED RULES: Blazing the Way to a Just and Joyful Marijuana Policy, visit his website jaywex.com/wordpress.