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Inching Closer to the Legalization of Marijuana

As criminal defense lawyers in the Jacksonville, Florida area, we still spend too much time and effort dealing with criminal cases and probation violations involving marijuana. It is a tremendous waste of taxpayer money and government resources, notwithstanding how completely ineffective the war on drugs continues to be. Some law enforcement agencies admit the obvious here and are not necessarily opposed to legalization efforts. Others are more stat oriented and realize how much easier drug arrests and prosecutions are than investigating and prosecuting more serious and complex crimes and continue to be opposed to legalization. Job security and taking the easy road are strong motivators.

In any case, the legalization movement forges ahead. Voters in California will be able to vote on marijuana legalization in November once again. They screwed it up last time, but most people agree that it is a matter of when, not if, this will pass in California. And once it takes hold in California and people see that civilization will survive, taxpayers will not be wasting as much money on the war on drugs carousel and money will be raised for positive causes through taxation (as in places like Washington, Colorado, Alaska and Oregon), legalization will continue to move forward in other states.

One problem facing legal marijuana businesses is that they do not have access to the same banking services afforded to other businesses. As a result, they cannot accept credit cards and other convenient forms of payment. They are primarily cash only businesses. This is the case because marijuana is still illegal under federal law and banks are not willing to risk federal criminal prosecution to serve the marijuana industry.

Like most, if not all, aspects of the war on drugs, this is foolish and counterproductive. Forcing these shops to operate cash only businesses makes them prime targets for robbers. Maybe that is the point- people against marijuana legalization would not mind seeing some armed robberies or violence associated with legal marijuana shops so they can point to how dangerous marijuana shops are. However, there is a bill moving through the Senate that would essentially prevent the federal government from punishing banks for working with marijuana businesses that are operating legally in their states. It is hard to say whether this bill, or a similar bill, will pass any time soon, but this situation with the banks and marijuana businesses is untenable. You cannot have businesses operating openly and legally on the one hand and banks prosecuted for providing routine financial services to them on the other hand. Of course, at the end of the day, politicians are largely controlled by the people with the money, and the banks have money. Once marijuana becomes a larger, more established industry in the U.S. (see California), the banks will want their cut and the politicians will fall in line, as they do.

Medical marijuana is legal in many states. It is farcically counter-intuitive that marijuana can be recommended for medicinal use by the people who are most qualified and experienced to make such decisions, i.e. doctors, yet marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug, meaning it lacks any medical value, by the people who seem to be most ignorant and/or biased on the substance, i.e. the government. Since marijuana is still illegal under federal law and in many states, can a doctor get into trouble for recommending that a patient use it? No, a doctor’s medical marijuana recommendation is protected by the First Amendment. This was decided by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and affirmed by the United States Supreme Court.

However, some doctors are still hesitant to prescribe marijuana for patients who would benefit from it. Why? Once again, it is about the money. While the government cannot prosecute a doctor for prescribing marijuana to a patient, a doctor could lose his/her license or a medical practice could lose federal funding for doing so. To address this, a bill is moving through the Senate that would prevent the government from using federal funding to interfere with doctors who prescribe marijuana in states where it is legal.

Finally, but no less important, Microsoft has agreed to provide software that would help track marijuana throughout the entire life of the plant. This software would help with safety and compliance issues. With Microsoft entering the industry to provide what appears to be a valuable and important product, other businesses will surely follow, which will only add legitimacy to the movement.

Obviously, there is still a long way to go to get this issue to where it needs to be. However, in 2016 it appears there are several promising developments on multiple fronts that will stimulate some critical momentum.