Stopping the Drug War: Two States Expand Medical Marijuana Access

Bills recently signed into law in two states expand medical marijuana access, further blocking federal prohibition in practice.

Last week, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed House Bill 5450 (HB5450). The new law will effectively expand access to medical marijuana to hospitalized patients. NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano reported that the legislation will “protect nurses who administer medical marijuana to qualified patients in hospital settings from any criminal, civil, or disciplinary action. Other provisions in the bill expand the pool of patients eligible for cannabis therapy to include those under the age of 18, and seek to establish a state-sponsored research program.”

Maine Gov. Paul LePage recently signed similar legislation into law. LD726 “protects hospital administrators and staff from criminal or civil liability if they permit qualified patients access to non-inhaled preparations of medical marijuana in hospitals. Under the law, patients would not necessarily be provided or administered medical marijuana by hospital staff, but could be provided cannabis products by third parties.” The Maine law also establishes licensing protocols for marijuana testing facilities, along with labeling of medicinal cannabis products.

Connecticut and Maine are the first states to explicitly provide immunity to hospitals that permit patients to medicate with cannabis, according to Armentano.

The expansion of medical marijuana access in these two states illustrate how one step leads to another. When states remove a lawyer of law, it incentivizes people to act. As markets develop, demand grows and that builds pressure to relax laws further. Legalization creates a sort of economic feedback loop that moves things progressively further down the road.

EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION

These two new laws will serve to further block federal prohibition in effect. Medial marijuana programs in Connecticut and Maine remove one layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition remains in place.

Of course, the federal government lacks any lawful authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

While state law does not alter federal law, it takes a step toward stopping the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By easing state prohibition, Louisiana essentially sweeps away part of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

Connecticut and Maine are among a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Washington state and Alaska have all legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, and more than two-dozen states now allow cannabis for medical use. With nearly half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically thwarting the ban.

“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” public policy analyst Michael Boldin said.