Feds need to mellow out over marijuana laws | Editorial
The latest reason: The archaic laws could infringe on Second Amendment rights.
Marijuana plants at a nursery in Oklahoma City.
Marijuana plants at a nursery in Oklahoma City. [ SUE OGROCKI | AP ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published April 28, 2022

It’s far past time that federal marijuana laws caught up to reality. Among so many other repercussions, federal foot-dragging also appears to jeopardize the gun rights of medical marijuana users. Do you like to drink a few beers? You can still own a gun. Do you take legally prescribed opioids? Here’s a Glock 19. But obtain a medical marijuana card and your Second Amendment rights get shaky. That’s unfair and just another in a long list of reasons for the federal government to finally correct its puritanical view of marijuana.

Florida and 36 other states have legalized medical marijuana, and 15 states now allow adults to use marijuana recreationally, similar to how they treat alcohol. But cannabis remains a federally controlled substance on par with heroin, a head-spinning decision similar to pretending that bicyclists somehow kill as many pedestrians as motorists. The disparity between state and federal laws sows legal confusion, which helps no one other than lawyers. The controlled substance designation also makes it harder for researchers to study the health risks and potential benefits for consumers. And fearing federal pushback, many banks and other financial institutions have shied away from engaging with companies that legally grow and sell marijuana, leaving fewer options to help the industry expand.

And then there is the gun rights issue. Earlier this month, Florida Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried filed suit against the federal government, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Attorney General Merrick Garland, for diminishing medical marijuana users’ Second Amendment protections. Gun buyers often have to pass a federal background check, which includes questions about marijuana use. Buyers face criminal penalties for answering dishonestly. ATF guidance warns licensed gun dealers against selling to someone who uses or is “addicted to marijuana.” Medical marijuana users by definition use marijuana, a fact that can make it harder for them to pass the background check and legally buy a gun. Fried, a first-term Democrat who is running for governor, described the cannabis prohibition as “misguided and dangerous.” To that we would add antiquated and unnecessary.

For years, political leaders have talked about updating federal marijuana laws. President Joe Biden said he would support reclassifying marijuana, and just a few weeks ago, the U.S. House passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, which would have decriminalized marijuana, including removing it from the list of controlled substances. But the bill isn’t expected to pass the Senate. For now, the current law will likely remain in place, perpetuating the federal charade that marijuana is a highly dangerous drug with little or no medical benefit.

Gun rights might not be the most obvious reason to update federal marijuana laws, but credit to Fried for keeping the issue in the limelight. Americans overwhelmingly support decriminalizing marijuana, especially for medical use, polls show. Regular citizens seem to understand the benefits while too many federal officials, including a swath of U.S. senators, can’t shed their personal biases. They should stop standing in the way of progress. To use the vernacular, they need to mellow out.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.