Marijuana in Federalism

Marijuana regulation provides the opportunity to research on power distribution and redistribution between the federal and state governments. The Bill of Rights is the particular document which protects people’s freedom through hindering the federal government from acting in jurisdictional areas except if it’s under prescribed procedures (Black, 865).  Enactment of the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act termed the transfer and possession of marijuana illegal in the United States. The tenth amendment gave the mandate to state governments by denying the federal government from the interference of marijuana law implementation (Bill of Rights, Amendment 10). The state governments legislated marijuana through taxes. However, later on in the year 1973, the then president, Richard Nixon, proposed a reorganization plan that suggested that a federal agency should enforce drug laws and surprisingly, the Congress gave the proposal a pass. The reason behind the acceptance of the proposal was due to the rising concern of drugs availability. Consequently, linking up of the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE) and also the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) led to the formation of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The purpose of  DEA was to ensure that the safety and efficiency of drugs get determined by a single power.The DEA worked over a decade, and cases kept on challenging the enforcement of the federal laws in marijuana cases. The fact that marijuana got placed on the Schedule 1 category of drugs, prompted for mandatory sentencing in case one was found guilty of handling marijuana. The final breakthrough came in 1988 when Judge Francis L. Young, ruled in support of moving marijuana to the Schedule II list of drugs (Bolitho, 53). The reason behind Judge Francis ruling was due to the discovery that marijuana’s natural form is among the safest therapeutic substances. However, the judge’s ruling was invoked by John Lawn in 1989, and the decision got upheld by a court of appeal. Proposition P, on the other hand, which was the 1991 California ballot measure to allow citizens to express their support for the medicinal use of marijuana. Resolution 141-92 which was a proposition from city supervisors urging the federal government from prosecution people who use pot for medicinal purposes. The resolution opened doors for the cannabis distribution specifically for AIDS patients in San Francisco.

Due to the success of Proposition P, it gave rise to the need to make reforms and initiatives for the handling of marijuana at state levels. Later on the after Proposition 215 which was medical marijuana advocates taking action to veto Governor Pete Wilson’s perspective of refusing medicinal cannabis use. Voters accepted Proposition 215 by providing approximately 775,000 signatures to promote the legalization of medical use of cannabis. The proposition made California the first state to legalize cannabis cultivation, use, and possession at the state level. The Compassionate Use Act also enhanced the cultivation of cannabis by patient’s caregivers, urging the lawmakers to establish a not only affordable but also a haven for marijuana distribution. Some of the diseases that marijuana use acted as treatment include cancer, arthritis, and even chronic pain. Proposition 215 was the most significant breakthrough in the history of marijuana laws since it served as a jump start to other states such as Washington, District of Columbia and Nevada follow the ballot initiative.

In the case of Contant v McCarrey of 2000 during Bill Clinton’s era, there was a repeatedly firm opposition for medicinal use of cannabis. Medical practitioners who prescribed the use of marijuana got threatened that their prescription abilities will get revoked.  However, some physicians took this policy as a breach of the First Amendment which confirmed the physicians’ right only to recommend and not prescribe cannabis use (The Bill of Rights, Amendment 1.).  Therefore, promoting the idea of marijuana recommendation and not prescription. The constitution provides clear guidelines concerning the specific powers vested upon the federal. Notably in case there lacks explicit confer of powers then powers are vested on state government. Conclusively, the United States Bill of Rights does not bestow powers to the federal government to regulate cannabis. Thus, the controls are currently within the state government. However, the constitution grants the federal government some powers related to marijuana since Congress manages the interstate finances to establish necessary new measures to enforce laws effectively.

The act of the United States government adopting the federalist system of government allows local resistance, especially to unpopular federal laws and policies. My view according to the use of federalism concerning regulating marijuana proves to work since it is essential for every state to exercise powers vested in them to decide what is right for their citizens at local levels. The fact that some powers are also vested upon the federal government as well displays the lack of biased bestowing of powers. Therefore, it is vital that the mandate to implement cannabis related laws and policies at state government levels to maximize the effectiveness of law implementation at local levels.  In 2013, President Obama assimilated a non-interference policy of cannabis legalization at state levels. On the contrary, the current President Trump signaled that there is a significant need to reconsider the non-interference policy mainly due to recreational use of cannabis.

During his campaign, prior getting elected to the presidential seat Donald Trump stated that he supports the idea of state governments managing policies and laws concerning cannabis. However, after his election, he reverted his position claiming that recreational use of cannabis should get revoked. Concerning medicinal marijuana he stated that is should be accepted, notwithstanding, that the federal government should look for legal resolutions to enable it to regulate the handling of cannabis. On 4th January 2018, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions declared three of Obama’s memos which supported the idea of non-interference policy.  In October 2018, Donald Trump’s administration sought public suggestions based on marijuana reclassification since there was an established link between opium abuse and recreational cannabis use. April 13th the US senator, Cory Gardner claimed that Trump reaffirmed his integrity to commit to letting state governments manage the handling of cannabis use within their jurisdictions. Currently, thirty-seven states legalized medicinal use of cannabis while ten legalized it for recreational purposes.



Black, Hugo L. “The bill of rights.” NyUL Rev. 35 (1960): 865.

Bolitho, Zachary C. “The US Constitution, the US Department of Justice, and State Efforts to Legalize Marijuana.” Lincoln Mem’l UL Rev. 4 (2016): 42.

National Constitution Center. Bill of Rights Institute. (1992). Retrieved from

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