In light of its ongoing status as a Drug Enforcement Administration Schedule 1 controlled substance, the decriminalizing and legalization of recreational marijuana is creating some secondary complications in States where voters have recently approved the change.
That’s because there’s Federal money on the line for the public universities that deploy the cooperative extension programs in the States. Federal student aid, research appropriations and technological initiatives, among other programs, all rely predominantly on the reliable flow of U.S. taxpayer money that emanates with regularity from Congress.
And so long as consuming, possessing, growing or transacting marijuana is against Federal law, State universities have a lot to lose if they elect to tell residents how to grow it — no matter how benign the circumstances.
Just as conservative States have claimed sovereignty over the regulation of healthcare, Western States struggling to protect their pot legislation from the Feds are in for a rough trip.
Recreational weed growing remains illegal in Washington but is legal in Colorado (just don’t grow more than six plants at a time). But both States face the same uncertain future when it comes to long-term marijuana law. Court challenges and shifting U.S. drug policy have a tendency to discourage States from expanding sanctioned services even tangentially related to pot.
Until Congress takes the target off marijuana at the Federal level, no State that receives Federal carrot-and-stick contingency funding is likely to cultivate a robust support infrastructure for marijuana growers — not even gardeners and hobbyists. County extension services that provide local farmers and gardeners with research, documentation and instruction on raising other crops and specialty plants simply can’t afford to risk losing the Federal dollars their agencies have become addicted to.
Marijuana policy reform group NORML compares the contemporary Federal policy on pot to Prohibition, noting the absurdity, in both cases, of enjoining States to enforce laws that had no popular support and of vastly insufficient Federal funding. Responding last year to the Colorado and Washington referenda, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano noted:
Like alcohol prohibition before it, marijuana prohibition is a failed federal policy that delegates the burden of enforcement to the state and local police. Alcohol prohibition fell when a sufficient number of states enacted legislation repealing the state’s alcohol prohibition laws. With state police and prosecutors no longer engaging in the federal government’s bidding to enforce an unpopular law, the federal government had little choice but to abandon the policy altogether. Today, history begins to repeat itself.
A bill before Congress, HR 499, would end the Federal prohibition on marijuana and leave the matter for each State to decide. The passing of such a bill wouldn’t exactly be a victory for States’ rights advocates — we went through this charade in the 1920s with the Volstead Act — but it could perhaps serve as a starting point for States whose leaders are eager to recover some of the sovereignty eroded by Federal aggression (and, in recent decades, State leaders’ own lazy deference).