Is the War on Drugs Over?

Last year’s legislative sessions and voter polls resulted in some of the most significant changes in marijuana law in decades. While California was the first to legalize marijuana for medical use in 1996, it is now behind other states that have fully legalized marijuana for recreational use. Other trends have shown that even conservative states are joining in support of marijuana reform.

California voters did pass one of the broadest sentencing reforms in the nation, which “de-felonized” the possession of hard drugs. New York also announced an end to arrests for marijuana possession. But does this mean that the war on drugs is over or at least winding down?


Despite state action, the federal government still considers marijuana an illegal substance. The Justice Department issued a memo in 2013 stating that it would not intervene where states legalized marijuana but properly regulated distribution and use in compliance with guidelines. Recently, the Obama administration also OK’d cultivation of marijuana on tribal lands so long as it was regulated. The movement toward legalization is growing, and law enforcement officers at the state and federal level are taking a more lenient approach to prosecution of marijuana and other drug crimes.

The war on drugs has proved elusive and expensive, also putting money in the hands of criminals who operate in the black market. High incarceration rates have led to the overcrowding of prisons and the significant investments have not yet proved to deter or even curb the use of marijuana and other drugs. Now legislators and law enforcement officials are reconsidering all drug laws at the state and federal level.

The Justice Department has been largely silent on the state experiments in reform and have even given latitude in taxing and regulation of state marijuana laws. Congress also carved historic protections against federal prosecution for medical-marijuana operations. The attorney general reduced prison sentences for federal drug offenders. While each individual act may seem modest, the collective shift in drug policy suggests that the war on drugs is winding down.

In 2010, California activists pushed a ballot initiative to legalize recreational use. To prevent a conflict with the Justice Department, governor Schwarzenegger passed a half measure to decriminalize marijuana use. While the legalization initiative failed, decriminalization of pot meant that possession amounted to a mere infraction, like a parking ticket, with a maximum of $100 fine. The shift moved lower level offenses out of the criminal justice system and amounted to a drop in youth crime in California by 30 percent.

As more states decriminalize use and push for legalization, it is becoming more clear the war and drugs is winding down, at least when it comes to marijuana. Still, it is important to remember that individuals and entities can be held liable at the state or federal level. Our Orange County medical marijuana attorneys are dedicated to raising awareness and to protecting the rights of card holders and dispensary owners. To prevent criminal charges, consult with an experienced advocate regarding any questions or concerns you may have.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 949-375-4734.

More Blog Entries:
Getting Started in the Medical Marijuana Industry, May 15, 2014, Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog
United States Marijuana Laws Influencing Other Countries, February 14, 2014, Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog

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