Marijuana Legalization 2013: Nevada Makes It Easier to Light Up, But Will This Hurt the Federal Cause?


“But as the plan of the convention aims only at a partial union or consolidation, the State governments would clearly retain all the rights of sovereignty which they before had, and which were not, by that act, EXCLUSIVELY delegated to the United States.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Papers 32 

For those of us currently crying “Big government!” Nevada’s recent progress give us a sigh of relief. With its recent marijuana legislation, Nevada assumed its state power in hopes of providing the most accommodating compromise between the people’s will, and the interests of their lawmakers. This state-sponsored solution that will create revenue and local oversight should excite the Edmund Burke in all of us, but in reality the law has left a few people wondering whether there is room for the federal government to do its job. 

On Wednesday evening Governor Brian Sandoval legalized marijuana dispensaries with SB374, completing the move towards available medicinal marijuana since it was first signed it into law in 2000. The Silver State is one of 14 states to pass legislation like this and one of 19, including the District of Columbia, to legalize medicinal marijuana in general. Modeled after Arizona’s legalization in 2010, Nevada's has outlined a framework for acquisition, implemented fees for all stages of cultivation (growing, processing, and dispensing,) and extended the legality of home-growing until 2016.

Though some worry that this is only one step from Nevada legalizing recreational use like its neighbor, Colorado, patients identified as legally protected due to their illness see this as a necessary step in the right direction. Specifically, the law is designed for patients with "AIDS; cancer; glaucoma; and any medical condition or treatment to a medical condition that produces cachexia, persistent muscle spasms or seizures, severe nausea or pain.”

Political tension has surfaced among state Republicans, who were said to object “on federal grounds, because marijuana — whether used medicinally or recreationally — is illegal under federal law.” This mismatch will continue to make it difficult for the federal government to carry out proper investigations as states increasingly legalize both medicinal and more provocatively, recreational marijuana.

In fact, this assumption of states’ rights calls attention to the conflict we inherently find in American federalism. The answer seems to be exactly what we see happening, namely, deliberation. Within these states, as well as those that have not legalized cannabis, both sides of the debate are required to blend their informed opinions with the amassed opinion of the citizens. Unfortunately for the 20 states that have taken some steps toward legalization, their laws do not coincide with what has been laid out by the federal government. The Republican concern is a real one.

Take the California case of Matthew Davies and his marijuana dispensary, allegedly in accordance with California state law. Ultimately, the federal government found him guilty and has sentenced him to five years in jail. This case displays the federal ability to distinguish real threats from what seem to be properly regulated and state-sanctioned medical establishments.

The legal system surrounding marijuana will never be completely consistent, so we cannot allow for misuse by a few large-scale drug dealers to hinder those who use the drug for medicinal purposes. Cases like Mr. Davies’ in conjunction with legislation like that which was passed in Nevada reveal that as our medical knowledge about marijuana advances, our ability and readiness to regulate it will need to become increasingly sophisticated.