Philosophy, Law and Politics

To Legalize, Or, Not To Legalize?

In discussing the current debate of whether the use and sale of marijuana should be generally allowed in each of the 50 States, and no longer be deemed a criminal activity, requires that thought be given to American history and traditional theories of the law. And, perhaps our debate should focus on the history of Prohibition, last century.

Currently proposed legislation before the U.S. Congress asks if the Federal government may, or should, dictate that the use of marijuana is legal conduct for every citizen in every state. Or, should the Federal Government respect the aged-old American doctrine of States Rights and the prudent theory of experimentation within and among jurisdictions, whether they be the Federal judicial Appellate Circuits, the States themselves, or the various political subdivisions therewithin?

As citizens, we must ask in what manner marijuana differs from the time honored American  custom of enjoying fermented and distilled spirits – alcohol. If marijuana is properly legal in the United States, regardless of locale, for social, and not only medical, purposes, what is the scientific rationale for permitting it being criminalized in any jurisdiction within the country? If legal in any State and deemed safe by our scientific community, is there a valid legal rationale for treating the use of marijuana differently from the current regulation of our use of alcohol?

Traditional grassroots, self-governance of communities in America is the foundation of our democracy, our representative republic. Governing jurisdictions, as small as towns and villages, may dictate legal policy as to the sale and use of alcohol within their jurisdictions. Yet, they may not proscribe the use of alcohol. This has only been done and repealed by a revision of the U.S.  Constitution. Marijuana, like alcohol, should properly be regulated below the Federal level by State and Local Governments only as they regulate  commerce within their boundaries. Like alcohol, marijuana requires more regulation than English muffins and wheat bread. Such regulation, though, results from theories of corporate and business structure, and the proper purposes of land use management – zoning restrictions.

If legal in one State, marijuana should be legal in all. And, the existence of the 50 States, and our various political subdivisions and territories, permits American capitalism to experiment.  Various business forms may evolve from the art of the “dry county,” the State owned and or regulated, stand alone “brick and mortar” business concern, or the State regulated, corner shop in the interstate or international grocery store.

And, there cannot be an argument for not fully expunging the criminal records of conviction and time served for offenders penalized for personal expression before their governing officials “saw the light.” It goes without saying, then, that, too, all criminal defendants currently “serving time” for marijuana only offenses should be released through existing transitional, reentry programs. Not doing so would be merely a creative theory of law ex post facto.

Lori Gayle Nuckolls, Esq.

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