Congress is moving towards the legalization of marijuana. This is what you should know for your safety
Translated from Telemundo. Original Author, Felipe Gálvez T.
NOVEMBER 20, 2019 / 10:00 AM EDT
Marijuana divides the United States into two. It is legal in 11 states, but it is prohibited at the federal level, which causes for example that you cannot buy with a credit card even where it is allowed. In New York, there are Latinos who go to jail (or are deported) for smoking it in the Queens neighborhood, but it is legal to do so in Manhattan. Even the Democrats doubt: the main candidate for the presidency in 2020 is against its legalization because it leads to using other drugs, while most of its rivals think the opposite.
This Wednesday, the Judicial Committee of the House of Representatives approved, with 24 votes in favor and 10 against, the proposed law to legalize this drug at the federal level. Now it will be the Plenary, with a Democratic majority, that makes the final decision, although it must still be endorsed by the Senate, under Republican control, and, ultimately, signed by President Donald Trump.
The measure would not only legalize the use of marijuana, but also eliminate the criminal record (every year there are more than 600,000 arrests for this reason , which punish mostly Latinos and other minorities). That would also relieve migrants facing deportation for that crime.
In any case, it seems difficult for legalization to occur before November 2020, when the White House and the Upper House could change political color.
But the debate advances strongly in society, and political divergences cause serious complications.
In 11 states it is already completely legal, while in 11 it is still prohibited. In the remaining 28, its use is allowed for medicinal reasons, or the police do not pursue its consumption, although the variety of nuances continues to create confusion and differences, especially in the way in which the authorities act.
Are those consumers protected by the law of the state in which they live to do something that is illegal at the federal level?
Can an industry of billions of dollars rely on the production and consumption of a product whose use is pursued by the FBI?
Only an important Democratic candidate opposes
Nearly seven in 10 Americans believe that marijuana should be legal, according to a study by the Pew Research Center released in November .
But the discussion continues to polarize politicians, and not just Republicans against Democrats: among the latter, former Vice President Joe Biden , the leading candidate according to polls in the 2020 elections, said Saturday that he is against it because “there is still not enough evidence to rule out that it is not an entry drug [to other drugs]. ”
Senator Kamala Harris , also among the favorites in the Democratic primary, instead heads the efforts to legalize her. "Let's be clear," he wrote on the social network Twitter hours later, "marijuana is not a gateway and must be legalized."
Biden, who in any case has said to respect the decisions of the states, is the only one of the main Democratic candidates who opposes the decriminalization of marijuana.
Senator Elizabeth Warren has recalled that both African Americans and whites consume marijuana "but the former are more likely to be arrested." “If we talk about criminal justice reform, we must start with the things we do illegally. One of the best places we could start with is the legalization of marijuana, ”he said.
Senator Bernie Sanders revealed in October his plan to legalize marijuana, which includes creating a federal clemency board to deal with related convictions.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg , who acknowledged having consumed it "a handful of times a long time ago," has said that the criminalization of drugs, especially marijuana, has failed. He even assured that its medicinal use should be covered by health insurance, like any other therapy.
Among the Republicans, legalization also has support. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, where marijuana is legal, and Rand Paul of Kentucky, where it is not, have come out in favor of decriminalization.
The president, Donald Trump , said during his 2016 campaign that he would respect the states in which he is considered legal, but criticized this decision and suggested that it should be avoided.
Speaking to Telemundo News, Justin Strekal, political director of the National Organization for the Reform of the Laws on Marijuana, said that “never in history has there been a presidential contest in which so many candidates support ending the failed policy of the criminalization of marijuana . "
"When more than 66% of the American public, including Democratic, independent and Republican majorities support its legal use among adults, it is increasingly likely that the United States will never elect a prohibitionist president again," he emphasized.
Studies for and against
Among the scientific community, the use of marijuana also divides. Dr. Peter Grinspoon reasons on the website of the Harvard Medical School his medicinal use of the drug, indicating that one of its components, the CBD, has shown benefits for patients with chronic pain, as well as the relief of insomnia or anxiety.
But some of its negative effects have also been studied, such as loss of attention and memory, impaired coordination and increased risk of certain mental illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The use of the drug has been linked to an increase in traffic accidents in the states where its recreational use has been approved. There are even studies that claim that it could generate bipolar symptoms in adolescents .
The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine prepared a report in 2017 where it analyzed relevant studies carried out since 1999, concluding, among other things, that more analysis is still needed to be able to make sound decisions in the field of health .
The legalization of this drug is also a matter of discussion among lawyers who know the difficulties that the federal prohibition presents in opposition to state authorizations.
Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, in addition to Washington DC are the states where marijuana has been fully legalized (in Illinois as of January 1). In another 28 states it has been decriminalized only in some cases.
But in all of them there have been controversial situations: for example, an immigrant can see his legal status jeopardized if he works for this industry even if it is legal in the state where he resides.
The lawyer Michael Horn, based in New York, explained to Telemundo that "if the state says one thing and the federal law another, the latter is the prevailing one." That is, "even in states where it is legal, the consumer is violating federal legislation," he argued recalling the case of Brandon Coats, who was fired in Colorado after failing to pass a drug test .
Coats, who was a quadriplegic patient, relied on medicinal use. But the state Supreme Court said that even when Colorado legalized the use of marijuana, companies can fire for consuming it because it is prohibited at the federal level.
The lawyer believes, however, that in relation to the use of marijuana, the federal government is more focused on drug trafficking cases, and not on the sale and consumption of the citizen.
He assures in any case that this legal difference creates "a rare sub-economy: multi-million dollar businesses, but that work in cash, with a bank that does not want to be involved." And to this are added problems such as the difficulties of companies to hire staff, offer benefits and even pay their employees' taxes.
One solution, apart from the discussion that will take place in Congress, would be for regulators (such as the Currency Control Office or the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) to regulate the banking relationship with this trade: “They could say, if a bank negotiates with one of these companies in a state where this drug is legal, that's fine, we're not going to chase them for breaking the law. ” And the bank "really wants this, they want to be part of this business that could generate billions of dollars, but they don't want to risk going to jail for this," he concludes.
What happens in Florida, Colorado and California
Florida is one of the states where the possession and consumption of marijuana are still prohibited, although the issue is treated with certain nuances, according to attorney Justin Berlin, based in Broward County. Last year this state approved the medicinal use of the drug, but in a more limited way than in other states.
"Certain types of marijuana possession can be [considered] a crime in Florida, so leaving at the discretion of a police officer [if the punishment is] a small fine and a crime has created some uneven results," he says.
"The Broward Sheriff's Office announced that they will not make arrests of persons possessing less than three grams of marijuana and that the mere act of smelling marijuana is no longer 'probable cause' to allow a police officer to conduct searches," He added, "But every city and every police department has followed different policies, which is creating inconsistency and confusion."
In Colorado, where five years have passed since marijuana was legalized for recreational use, a lucrative industry that generates tax revenue has been generated; but there are those who believe that certain repairs have not been overcome for moral and health reasons , and that the quality of life has even decreased.
In California, one of the first places to legalize it, the black marijuana market continues to generate problems. The state authorities recently reported the seizure of illegal plantations valued at 1,500 million dollars during fiscal year 2019, an amount that according to an expert cited by the news agency The Associated Press, is equal to everything generated by the legal drug market .
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