Institutional Affiliation:




Marijuana, scientifically known as Cannabis Sativa has been in use all over the world for the last five million years. The fame of marijuana rose as a result of the various spiritual, cultural and medical beliefs associated with it. In the US, marijuana has been used for many years for medical and recreation purposes. Currently, marijuana remains one of the mostly used drugs among the young and middle-aged persons in the US. Prevalent and unregulated marijuana use was halted by a federal ban in 1970 when the United States Congress classified it as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substance Act (Bostwick, 2012). Despite the federal ban, its continued use increased in the 1990s when states started to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purpose. The state of California was the first to legalize the use of medical marijuana in 1995. Denning (2015) indicates that to date, seventeen states allow the procession of marijuana for personal use while twenty-one states legalize its use for medical purposes. The use of marijuana is seen to be influenced by the social power and geographic availability of the drug. The legalization of marijuana in the various states overlooks the federal ban placed by the Congress under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970. The issue has created a national crisis with the ground unclear on what law takes precedence in the drug and substance abuse control. This paper explains the differences that occur between the recreational and medical use of cannabis and their general implications for the health and social life of the users. The article also describes the national crisis brought about by state legalization of marijuana while citing possible remedies to the crisis.

Marijuana is not as widely used for the medical purpose as compared to recreational use. The interests in medical and recreational use also differ, with the latter aimed at achieving a feeling of being ‘high’ and detachment from the reality. According to Cerda, Wall, Keyes, Galea and Hasin (2012), state medical marijuana laws are seen as an indicator for approval of increased marijuana use. States allow the use of marijuana for medical purpose though insisting that it should be under prescription by a physician. It becomes harder to identify authorized cannabis users from the illegal ones. Cerda et al. (2012) indicates that medical marijuana is useful in the treatment of conditions like nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy and alleviation of unresponsive chronic pain. Bostwick (2012), adds that whooping cough, asthma and insomnia are other conditions treatable by medical marijuana. Despite these useful applications of marijuana, the negative implication of prolonged and unregulated use cannot go unnoted. Cerda et al. (2012) list withdrawal effects, unemployment, personality dysfunction, respiratory problems and psychiatric disorder as some of the negatives effects of marijuana abuse.

The federal crisis between the states marijuana laws and the controlled substance act leaves the country in a state of confusion. The question asked by many is whether the states have an obligation to put federal laws into consideration when making their laws. The Constitution gives the US Congress absolute powers to regulate people in the states. However, the constitution too gives the states the power to make independent legislative decisions. In legalizing marijuana, it is not clear as to whether the states are obliged to obey the Controlled Substance Act. Schwartz (2013), explains that only the Congress has regulatory powers to prohibit the manufacture, distribution or possession of marijuana by any person in the country. Regulation by the Congress has to be made regardless of whether or not it offends the state laws. To show the depth of this crisis, Schwartz (2013), gives an example of a police officer who ‘encounters a person in possession of marijuana in conformance with the state’s legalization laws’. In such a case, one is left to wonder whether the officer should arrest the person or just let them go. Either of the two decisions could lead to the officer facing legal charges for breaking the state or federal laws. The police officer is required to follow arrest orders from their employer, the federal government (Redbruch, 2006). The decision for arrest would however lead to the conviction of the officer in court. Redbruch (2006), asserts this arguing that the jurist does not recognize such requirement of the soldier to follow orders, and passes judgment only based on the law. In the same line, Milgram (1974), brings forth the issue of a dilemma in obedience that may at times leave the society worse off given the law enforcers seek to follow their law to the later. In the long run, the society is likely to experience more persons committing crimes under the guise of obedience. In essence, at most times the human beings allow morality to be stifled through legislation leading to escalation of some types of crimes.

The solution to the federal crisis surrounding legalization of marijuana could be found if the proper interpretation of two clauses is done; the anti-commandeering doctrine and the ‘federal preemption of state laws under the Supremacy Clause’ (Schwartz, 2013). The anti-commandeering doctrine holds that state officers, legislatures, and executives cannot be compelled to enact any federal laws or policies. As per this doctrine, the state has no obligation to take the Controlled Substance Act into consideration when formulating the state marijuana legalization laws. On the other hand, the supremacy clause gives power to the Congress to control the states legislation and other activities. To control the states, the Congress has the mandate to subject them to ‘generally applicable laws’ (Schwartz, 2013). An example of a ‘generally applicable law’ is the Controlled Substance Act. The argument thus suggests that the Controlled Substance Act is superior to any state law concerned with drugs and substance use. An application citing the supremacy clause if filed in court, the state laws that legalize the use of marijuana would be considered null and void. Denning (2015), however, argues that preempting a state law by federal law would be termed as commandeering and thus conflicting with the anti-commandeering doctrine. The confusion leads to Schwartz (2013), concluding that the two clauses do not offer any solution to the federal crisis.

Despite the high rate at which the states are legalizing marijuana, there exists only little scientific evidence to support such laws. According to Bostwick (2012), most of the state cannabis legalization policies are based on ‘political ideologies and gamesmanship’. Lack of existing medical evidence on the benefits and effects of marijuana serves as a satisfying factor that encourages its continued use. The little research done in the mid-20th century indicated that the cannabinoids presents in cannabis can cure various illnesses. According to Radbruch, Paulson and Paulson (2006), the law serves two purposes to foster justice while at the same time protecting the public benefits. Therefore, to fully illegalize the use of marijuana, the involved should ensure that parties are not disenfranchised in the deal. The snag, however, can only be resolved through increased research that gives separates myths from facts.

However, after the establishment of the Controlled Substance Act, the scientific research on marijuana became more difficult due to the existence of several federal barriers. The restrictions have made it difficult to show the benefits and adverse effects of the drug. The researchers and marijuana users view the barriers as the Congress’ strategy to protect the Controlled Substance Act and ensure continued criminalization of cannabis. Despite more than twenty states legalizing cannabis as a medicinal plant, the US Congress insists that the drug does not have any acceptable medical value and thus remains illegal (Bostwick, 2012). The question asked by many is whether the Congress used any scientific data in criminalizing marijuana and degrading it to a schedule 1 drug, given that there lacks enough research outcome to support such claims. The Congress uses its powers to ensure that there are few or no marijuana research facilities. The only known marijuana research facility is a strain grown at the University of Mississippi. One is required to apply for permission from the federal government to access the facility. Bostwick (2012), observes that such regulations have led to most researchers bringing their study to cessation. Scientists see the barriers as a political ideology to try and cover the real truth about cannabis. Bostwick (2012), further indicates that proper scientific research must consider both the negative and positive implications of a substance, rather than concentrating on the negatives only. Action should be taken to ensure that the state laws that legalize marijuana and federal laws that criminalize marijuana are based on scientific data rather than political and false ideologies. As White (1985), notes the law can be reduced two basic elements namely policy choices and techniques of implementation. Therefore, for socially optimal outcomes to be achieved in the legalization of marijuana issue the laws should be used properly used to make the policies and guide their implementation

In conclusion, it is clearly seen that the various laws applied by the states or federal governments have an impact on the social life. Legalization of marijuana could have adverse effects on the society, just like criminalizing it would. Lack of enough scientific data and evidence has led to spreading of false information regarding the positive and negative effects of marijuana use. Whether used for recreation or medical use, regulation must be put in place. The regulations will help in combating the health and moral issues that can be brought out by illicit marijuana consumption. The government should provide research facilities so that the controversies surrounding the use of marijuana are cleared out. The states and federal governments must ensure that the laws that they come up with are friendly and based on scientific data. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has a responsibility to make interpretation and give guidance on the various state and federal laws concerning use and legalization/criminalization of marijuana


Bostwick, J. (2012). Blurred Boundaries: The Therapeutics and Politics of Medical Marijuana. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 87(2), 172-186.

Cerdá, M., Wall, M., Keyes, K., Galea, S., & Hasin, D. (2012). Medical marijuana laws in 50 states: Investigating the relationship between state legalization of medical marijuana and marijuana use, abuse and dependence. Drug And Alcohol Dependence, 120(1-3), 22-2

Denning, B. (2015). Vertical Federalism, Horizontal Federalism, And Legal Obstacles To State Marijuana Legalization Efforts. Case Western Reserve Law Review, 65(3), 567-595.

Milgram, S. (1974). The Dilemma of Obedience. The Phi Delta Kappan, 55(9), 603-606. Retrieved from

Radbruch, G. (2006). Five Minutes of Legal Philosophy (1945). Oxford Journal Of Legal Studies, 26(1), 13-15.

Radbruch, G., Paulson, S., & Paulson, B. (2015). Statutory Lawlessness and Supra-Statutory Law. Oxford Journal Of Legal Studies, 26(1), 1-11. Retrieved from

Schwartz, D. (2015). High Federalism: Marijuana Legalization and the Limits of Federal Power to Regulate States. Cardozo Law Review, 35(567), 1-76.

White, J. (1985). Law as Rhetoric, Rhetoric as Law: The Arts of Cultural and Communal Life. University Of Chicago Law Review, 52(3), 684-702. Retrieved from



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