Pot Matters: The New Marijuana Issues

Looking ahead into 2016 one thing is clear: there is a lot more to marijuana’s legalization than whether cannabis users are arrested, fined or regulated.

That’s the old marijuana issue. 

There was one discussion based on the belief that marijuana should be against the law, but that people shouldn’t spend much, if any, time in jail. Then, there was another discussion about whether marijuana should be legalized or not. The murky middle became one of the greatest obstacles to legalization, one prohibition’s supporters are desperate to resuscitate. It allowed people to support keeping marijuana illegal without requiring sending people to jail, or alternately to support reforming marijuana laws without making cannabis legal. 

But as issues go, it was pretty simple. There were three options to consider—sending people to jail, making people pay fines and regulating their conduct.

For many Americans, this is still how they see the marijuana issue, if they even think about it at all. Please note that for many Americans, there are a lot more important things to think about, when it comes to public policy, than what to do about the nation’s marijuana laws.

What’s changed, though, is that a lot more Americans have moved from the first question (arrest vs. fine) to the second (legalization), and this discussion now defines the marijuana issue in the country. 

All the customary year-end commentary, looking back and looking ahead, is focused on the move toward legalization. The big question dominating these year-end commentaries is which states will legalize marijuana next, and next to that is the question of just how much money is there to be made in the new legal market—whether for companies and investors (profit) or for government (taxes).

But looking at the news and commentary about legalization over the last year reveals something new and exciting. 

Legalization, it seems, is not nearly as simple as it once appeared to be. Instead of the simple issue of stopping arrests, there is now the more complicated issue of what a regulated cannabis market means in terms of details, policies and individual rights.

What are the new marijuana issues that cannabis users should be concerned about?

Here are the three most important marijuana issues for 2016 and beyond.

First, there is the old issue of criminal penalties for marijuana possession, sale and cultivation. 

It’s great that some states have legalized marijuana and many more are considering this approach in the upcoming year. But marijuana remains illegal in much of the United States. This cannot be allowed to continue; legalization must become national. Federal legislation that allows states the option to legalize or criminalize marijuana is not an acceptable national policy.

Second, all Americans must have the right to grow cannabis for both personal and commercial use. 

On a large scale this is an issue of having a free, open market without the granting of limited commercial monopolies for cultivation. But this is also a matter of personal freedom. Individuals ought to be able to grow cannabis for personal use and also be able to sell some to their friends or even at a local farmer’s market.

Third, marijuana users must be protected from employment discrimination. 

Employers have every right to require that their employees not be impaired while at work—whether from prescription drugs, alcohol, marijuana or any other drug. Firing someone from their job because they use marijuana when they are not at work is unacceptable discrimination, as is denying employment for this reason. Public discrimination based on private legal behavior should not be allowed, regardless of the behavior.  

The medical use of cannabis during work hours is a bit more complicated, in which the rights and responsibilities of the employee must be balanced against the rights and responsibilities of the employer. But in these cases, the issue is that the medical condition of the employee and its treatment creates a disability, which may prevent that person from working, and it should be addressed accordingly rather than as an issue of on-the-job drug abuse.

There are many other new issues related to legalization. 

Taxes, age limits, product safety, labeling, electricity usage, fertilizer usage, sanctions on under-age use, permit and inspection procedures—there are a lot of new areas for policy makers, legislators and the public to figure out how to address and balance the competing interests of businesses, consumers and the public.

The new issues of cannabis legalization, the important issues of legalization, are clear. 

And they must be kept clear. 

Any adult, in any state, should able to use and grow cannabis without fear of arrest or losing their job. It will take time to achieve these goals. There will have to be compromises along the way. Nonetheless, these are the goals of legalization, and they will be achieved.

(Photo c/o livetradingnews.com)

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