Marijuana Reclassification: Implications for State Laws

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Garry Stewart
Written By Steve Brandon

May 8, 2024

marijuana reclassification: implications for state laws

As the U.S. government thinks about reclassifying marijuana, it might not change marijuana legalization and usage in states where it’s still not allowed. But people who want marijuana to be legal hope this marijuana reclassification impact might make some state leaders change their minds about it.

Matthew Schweich, who leads the Marijuana Policy Project, often hears from state lawmakers who say they’d consider supporting marijuana legalization if it wasn’t illegal at the federal level.

Even though reclassifying marijuana wouldn’t make it legal, Schweich thinks it’s a big deal because it might encourage more state lawmakers to take action on its legalization status. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration wants to move marijuana from the most tightly controlled category Schedule 1 to a less strict one, Schedule 3, which will make it less dangerous and can be used more freely. However, this process could take a while, even until after the next presidential election.

marijuana reclassification: implications for state laws

What are other states’ upcoming plans for this?

  • While waiting for the federal change, supporters who favor legalizing it could use it as a new argument for their cause. For instance, in Florida, voters will decide on whether to allow recreational cannabis this November through a constitutional amendment.
  • Similarly, other states like South Dakota are also considering public voting on legalizing recreational marijuana, with supporters planning to submit signatures for the third time.
  • In Nebraska, a group is collecting signatures to put two measures on this year’s ballot: one to make medical marijuana legal and another to let private companies grow and sell it.
  • In North Dakota, Mark Friese, a former police officer turned criminal defense attorney, supports a marijuana legalization initiative. He thinks the federal reclassification could really help their campaign this year. In the past, North Dakota voters said no to legalizing marijuana in 2018 and 2022, but they said yes to medical marijuana in 2016.
  • Mark Friese thinks changing how marijuana reclassification affects people will discuss legalizing it more reasonably. But in Idaho, Jackee Winters struggles to get support for medical marijuana because people are scared of the legal consequences.
  • The reclassification might not change things in states where marijuana is already legal, but it could sway opinions in states where it’s mostly banned. In Georgia, patients have been able to use low-THC cannabis since 2015, but buying it legally only started last year. However, the federal DEA warned against selling medical marijuana, despite the state’s efforts to license it.
  • Dawn Randolph, who leads the Georgia Pharmacy Association, thinks if marijuana is reclassified federally, pharmacists could handle it like any other prescribed medicine.
  • In Tennessee, leaders are still cautious about legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational use. Even though there’s talk about the DEA considering reclassification of marijuana, Tennessee Senate Speaker Randy McNally, a Republican, hasn’t changed his stance. He believes that even if marijuana moves to a less strict category, there are still many issues to sort out before considering legalization.
  • In Kansas, a proposal to make medical marijuana legal didn’t get voted on in a Senate committee and failed to get debated in the full Senate. Law enforcement officials, like Kansas Bureau of Investigation Director Tony Mattivi, are worried that legalizing marijuana could lead to organized crime and make it hard to tell if people are driving high.
  • In South Carolina, the head of the state police also opposes legalizing medical marijuana, saying it could lead to more drug use. A bill supported by Republican Senator Tom Davis passed the Senate but got stuck in a House committee.
  • Some places like Iowa and Texas allow limited access to cannabis products with low THC levels, but efforts to do the same in other areas, like Lubbock, Texas, face criticism from politicians like Republican Representative Dustin Burrows.
  • In Wyoming, despite a decade of trying, there hasn’t been progress in legalizing marijuana. Governor Mark Gordon is unsure about medical marijuana and against recreational use, and the Republican-led Legislature didn’t even discuss a recent bill to decriminalize marijuana.
  • However, some, like Apollo Pazell, who worked on petitions for legalization before, hope that if marijuana gets reclassified federally, more lawmakers will support legalization because the resistance will be less intense.

Take Away

The possible impact of marijuana reclassification on state laws will be significant. Even though federal changes won’t directly change state rules, they might make state leaders think differently. Some states are already considering legalizing marijuana, like Florida and South Dakota. But in places like Tennessee and Kansas, there’s still worry about crime and drug problems. However, if the federal government changes its stance, it could make it easier for states to legalize. This change gives hope to people like Apollo Pazell, who believe more lawmakers might support legalization if the federal rules change.

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