GUEST EDITORIAL: Let states decide on pot: Feds should not interfere on marijuana reform

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

There is a nascent movement inside the beltway that would give our nation’s states the unqualified right to decide for themselves the legal status of marijuana.

It is an overdue step that finally would reconcile a federal-versus-state legal conflict that has ensnared many American patients who suffer medical conditions that are eased by the use of cannabis.

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee in November approved a bill that would legalize marijuana on the federal level, removing it from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. The legislation is handicapped to win approval in the full House then is expected to face an uphill climb in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes marijuana legalization.

Mr. McConnell and his cohorts should look for leadership on this matter to President Donald Trump, who has expressed support for a states’ rights approach to pot policy.

The legislation, which passed the judiciary committee 24 to 10, would formally allow states to enact their own policies on marijuana. And that’s almost like closing the barn door after the horse galloped away. Almost.

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Because a majority of states across the country already have legalized marijuana to one extent or another. This conflict with federal law has placed some citizens in legal jeopardy.

For example, an Indiana County woman was denied residence in federal housing because her prescription for medical cannabis — legal in Pennsylvania — does not jibe with federal law. The woman, who suffers chronic back pain, had applied to the Indiana County Housing Authority for participation in the Section 8 housing program operated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development but her application was denied because she had been certified by the state to legally use medical marijuana.

She appealed to court, but the judge said his hands were tied: Federal law bans all types of marijuana, even medical marijuana. She could not reside in federally subsidized housing if she’s breaking federal law, he ruled.


Also, anyone with a medical marijuana prescription in Pennsylvania who drives could face arrest under a strict interpretation with governing legislation. Pennsylvania uses the Controlled Substances Act to determine what drugs are impermissible at any amount in a person’s system while driving. Because marijuana metabolites can be present for days and even weeks after ingestion — long after any “high” sensation has passed — hundreds of thousands of residents with legal prescriptions for medical marijuana are driving illegally. Technically. That’s more than 125,000 Pennsylvanians.

Some three dozen states in the U.S. have legalized medical marijuana and the pressure is on to bring the rest to heel. Medical marijuana has been legal in Pennsylvania since 2016 and there is momentum building toward the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Study after study has shown medical pot is effective with fewer side effects than alternatives. Therapeutic cannabis is a favored treatment for many conditions from Alzheimer’s disease to glaucoma, cancer to epilepsy. The American Medical Association has noted that a majority of Americans are in favor of legalization.

It’s past time that the federal government step aside from a states’ rights matter and an anachronistic view that simply does not keep pace with medical evidence or public sentiment.