NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Less than two weeks after President Obama signed groundbreaking marijuana reform defunding DEA raids in states where marijuana is legal under state law, the federal government has continued to display schizophrenic behavior on the topic.
The U.S. attorney's office in Sacramento representing the federal Justice Department made the argument in a court filing opposing a challenge to a long-standing federal policy that marijuana be rescheduled from a Schedule I drug.
This has been the official position of every administration and federal policy since the passage of the Controlled Substances Act during the Nixon Administration.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Broderick wrote in the filing that there is still enough evidence to support the official federal government position that "this psychoactive, addictive drug is not accepted as safe for medical use at this time, even with medical supervision."
Not unsurprisingly, this tactic elicited sharp criticism from the cannabis industry.
"While progress has been made on various fronts, including in Congress and within federal agencies, the federal law of the land still treats marijuana as if it were a product on par with heroin," said Taylor West, deputy director of The National Cannabis Industry Association. "Partial victories like the DEA funding restrictions are still victories, but ultimately, federal elected officials and agencies must address the voters' clear preference for a new, smarter approach to marijuana."
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Joe Hodas, chief marketing officer at Dixie Elixirs, also noted the unfortunate legal trend that this position has already begun to spark.
"Along with the Nebraska/Oklahoma v. Colorado suit, we will begin to see more of these crop up. And then the courts have a very interesting conundrum--either support the law as it currently stands, or begin to set precedence for major changes before the feds are ready to do so," he said.
The impact of the current stance of the federal government on a nationally legalizing industry cannot be overstated, particularly in a year where multitudes of states all over the country are implementing not only new medical regulations but also changing state law to do so.
The impact on the overall industry, including the recreational sector, is also likely to be expensive and time consuming at least.
"The greatest impact will be uncertainty," Hodas said. "We are such a 'wait-and-see' industry right now that it is very difficult to grow properly. There is always one more regulation, one more lawsuit, one more compliance hurdle waiting around every corner so it makes long range planning very difficult."
According to West, as long as the federal government fails to address its conflicts with state laws and voter preferences, the industry will continue to see "absurd and counterproductive consequences," including the lack of access to banking services for legal cannabis businesses and tax burdens that penalize law-abiding, responsible businesses like criminals.
"More and more states are recognizing that marijuana prohibition has failed and that legalizing access to cannabis is a smarter policy," West said. "It's long past time for federal officials to catch up."
Hodas, for one, also thinks this battle will be a protracted one that will stretch beyond the current Obama Administration.
As a result, his prognosis is a protracted legal and legislative battle through at least the next presidential election.
"I see what it takes here in Colorado, as just a microcosm," Hodas said. "To consider it on a national level and all the challenges, issues, etc. that go with it? I just think no one wants to take that on and be responsible. So, instead we will do it slowly, state by state, until such time as we reach this really critical mass in a few years."
--Written by Marguerite Arnold for MainStreet