Although many states and territories have legalized the medical or recreational use of marijuana, the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) with “a high potential for abuse,” “no currently accepted medical use,” and “a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision.” The possession of even a small amount of marijuana is a federal offense that can result in fines and/or imprisonment.
As more and more states legalize the medical or recreational use of marijuana, it is only a matter of time before the federal marijuana prohibition is rescinded. However, all state marijuana legislation is not created equal. And some of it is fraught with problems.
Mississippi governor Tate Reeves, a Republican, signed a bill last month legalizing the medical use of marijuana for certain patients. Since the beginning of the year, the Republican-controlled New Hampshire House of Representatives has approved two bills to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults 21 and older.
In the 2020 election, voters in Mississippi, by a vote of 73.7 percent to 26.3 percent, approved a ballot initiative to “allow medical marijuana treatment for more than 20 specified qualifying conditions, allow individuals to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana at one time, and tax marijuana sales at the current state sales tax rate of 7 percent.” However, Mississippi’s supreme court overturned the state’s medical marijuana initiative on May 14, 2021, overruling the will of voters.
The bill recently passed by the Republican-controlled Mississippi legislature and signed into law by the governor on February 2 states that those with “debilitating medical conditions” can use medical cannabis but that they (or their registered caregivers) must first obtain an identification card to purchase the drug. The medical marijuana “will be dispensed in measures called Mississippi Medical Cannabis Equivalency Units,” with one unit equaling “3.5 grams of cannabis, 1 gram of medical cannabis concentrate or 100 milligrams of THC.” The bill passed only “after lawmakers’ amendments that included only allowing medical professionals to prescribe the drug and prohibiting dispensaries from operating near churches and schools.”
With this legislation, Mississippi becomes the 37th state to allow the medical use of marijuana.
In New Hampshire, the first marijuana reform bill, passed in January by a vote of 241–113, would legalize marijuana possession and personal cultivation. It will not allow commerce in marijuana but would allow adults to “possess and give away up to three-fourths of an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants, three of which could be mature.” The bill has “penalties for public consumption” and “violating restrictions on home cultivation such as by growing in a publicly visible space and extracting cannabis in a dangerous manner.”
The second bill, passed in February by a vote of 235–119, would allow adults “to purchase cannabis from state-run dispensaries operated by the New Hampshire Liquor Commission.” Although adults could possess up to four ounces of marijuana, home cultivation would continue to be criminalized.
If either of these bills is approved by the New Hampshire senate and signed into law by Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, then New Hampshire will become the 18th state to legalize marijuana for recreational use. (South Dakota voters approved a recreational marijuana initiative in the 2020 election, but it was overturned by a state circuit judge on February 8, 2021, and that decision was upheld by the state supreme court on November 24, 2021.)
So, what could possibly be wrong with these bills in Mississippi and New Hampshire? They are a far cry from marijuana freedom.
Why should only those with “debilitating medical conditions” be able to use marijuana? Why should an identification card be required to purchase marijuana? Why should the amount of marijuana be limited? Why should only medical professionals be able to prescribe marijuana? Why should marijuana dispensaries be prohibited from operating near churches and schools? Why should commerce in marijuana be prohibited? Why should the number of marijuana plants be limited? Why should it be illegal to grow marijuana in a publicly visible space? Why should marijuana be available only from state-run dispensaries? Why should home cultivation of marijuana be criminalized?
Rep. Max Abramson, a Republican member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, said it best: “It is not — and never has been — the job of government to try to protect you from hurting yourself. And outside of the 1950s B horror movies, it has never been the job of government to protect you from a plant.”
Although some marijuana freedom is better than no marijuana freedom, libertarians must be careful about claiming victory as more and more states legalize marijuana for medical or recreational use. We must not settle for less than marijuana freedom.