Ryan Alexander-Tanner

I keep reading articles about new states with weed programs. How is this still illegal federally?

I KEEP READING about them too. Last month, Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana. Last week, it was Louisiana. As of today, 25 states and Washington, DC, have legalized weed for medical use. That's sort of more than half. By the end of this year, a true majority of states will have legalized something that is federally illegal.

These days, it barely makes the news when a state turns the corner on medical cannabis. That was even true in Louisiana, the first state in the Deep South to loosen up. It seems strange that the federal government would continue to criminalize something that a majority of the states have legalized to some degree. And yet, here we are.

It may get even stranger before it gets better. This fall, California, Nevada, Maine, Arizona, and several other states are considering some form of legalization for all adults. Even if some of those efforts fail, the federal government cannot put this genie back in the bottle. There are too many people involved for federal action to rein in the industry. So we are in a d├ętente where some federal agencies, like the US Department of Justice, are not enforcing federal law, while others, like the Federal Trade Commission, US Food and Drug Administration, and US Environmental Protection Agency (which should all be regulating cannabis) pretend like it does not exist.

Ultimately, Congress and the president need to act if we want to see the end of federal prohibition. At that point, private actors like big banks, big investment firms, credit card companies, and others will certainly fall in line. Pot entrepreneurs will no longer have to deal with oppressive taxation and the many other issues arising from federal prohibition. Even this fine gazette will be free from the theoretical possibility of conspiracy charges.

The end of federal prohibition is not the niche issue it was even five years ago. Voters in states where weed is still verboten can look at their neighbors and see that legalization has gone swimmingly well. And the marijuana programs continue to improve. Oregon's Measure 91 and subsequent laws are superior in many ways to what Washington and Colorado pioneered. To that end, former US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once called the states "laboratories of democracy," and that certainly seems apt when it comes to weed. (Brandeis was discussing a hapless fellow named Liebmann who was sued for selling ice in Oklahoma in the 1930s. Apparently, that required a license.)

Anyway, to your question, legalized cannabis has arrived and there is no turning back. The federal government is doddering along and should get there soon, because ending prohibition is borderline politically expedient. For now, it is interesting to see each state roll out its unique cannabis program, like a laboratory. Be happy you live in Oregon, the best lab going. And don't worry too much about the feds.