Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ reversal on an Obama-era policy won’t affect just the eight states that have legalized marijuana or the 29 others that permit the drug for medical purposes.
Though that impact isn’t yet fully clear because of the lack of specifics within Sessions’ one-page directive, there’s no doubt all 50 states will deal with the ramifications of this change. Even Nebraska, where no form of marijuana products is legal, faces an uncertain future on the topic.
In fact, press reports following last Thursday’s news specifically cited Nebraska by name as a state where federal prosecutors could focus their efforts. Law enforcement agencies in the Panhandle and elected state officials in Lincoln alike have made no secrets for their disdain for legal marijuana in neighboring Colorado.
Several county sheriff’s departments have lamented the cost of interdiction, prosecution and detention of those suspected of possessing quantities of marijuana illegal under federal and Nebraska law but legal in Colorado. Sessions’ memo alone won’t resolve this intriguing battle of federalism vs. states’ rights.
As with so many divisive topics, the proper answer is for Congress to pass legislation that clearly defines how and when marijuana is legal, particularly since it’s become big for business and tax revenues in several states. The tide on marijuana usage appears to have permanently turned, giving one the feeling that Sessions is attempting to bail a sinking ship with a bucket.
A recent Gallup poll indicates 64 percent of Americans, including majorities of both Democrats and Republicans, support legalizing the drug. Innumerable veteran and patient testimonials have credited medical cannabis products — derived from the marijuana plant, but in a much different form than recreational pot — as safer, more effective treatment for a variety of conditions than opioids.
Last March, the Journal Star editorial board backed a bill by Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart that would allow for medical cannabis products in the state. The measure was overwhelmingly approved by the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee and remains alive for this year’s short session.
Medical marijuana is safe from Sessions’ directive but just for the very short term. Its protection comes from an amendment that bars the Justice Department from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. That measure must be approved annually, though, meaning it could easily vanish as soon as later this month.
Given that 46 states have legalized at least some form or derivative of marijuana for medical purposes, the incentive exists for Congress, at long last, to codify at least some legal status for the drug. Until then, however, the patchwork of orders governing its legality will continue to muddy the waters and leave no place, even Nebraska, unaffected by which way the wind blows.