This past week, Uber Conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made an unorthodox statement in a concurring opinion that federal laws against marijuana may no longer be necessary. Ruling on a case involving the prosecution of a man charged with growing pot on tribal land, Thomas wrote that,

“Congress could probably rationally conclude that marijuana has no currently accepted medical use.” This case is not about whether Congress should repeal the [Controlled Substances Act], but about whether Congress’ most recent decision to do so was rational.”

Justice Clarence Thomas

Federal laws against marijuana may be outdated

In the U.S., cannabis is still a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. This is a law that was passed in 1971 under President Nixon, and it classified marijuana as a drug with a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical value.The act was amended in 1984 and re-authorized by President Bush in 2008, without lifting the marijuana ban. But now, Thomas suggests, substance abuse laws that were intended to keep marijuana away from children and those prone to addiction may no longer be necessary.

Thomas’s endorsement of loosening constraints on marijuana policy represents a notable shift. He and a growing number of federal officials see a transforming medical and societal evidence on the drugs’ efficacy for a wide range of conditions. Vice President Joe Biden expressed support for loosening marijuana laws last year. Yesterday, he asked Congress to delay the implementation of Section 2709 of the 2013 Cole Memorandum, a memo by the Bush administration that instructed U.S. attorneys to refrain from enforcing marijuana laws that exceed certain limits.

Indoor Marijuana Cultivation
Inside a legal indoor cultivation facility.

This is not the first time that Thomas has examined the question. During the 2002 hearing, he asked then–attorney general John Ashcroft whether the government should remove marijuana from its list of Schedule I controlled substances.

Ashcroft replied that current evidence did not justify it. “Something that’s legal today, that’s been legalized by the state, is probably less dangerous than a controlled substance that was legally sold a year ago.”

Hearing that, Thomas noted that “today a lot of people that are addicted to marijuana are prescribed the drug methadone, and in some cases buprenorphine at the same time… So somebody’s making a good argument for the government to loosen up restrictions on marijuana.”

A man was prosecuted for growing marijuana on tribal land

The man argued that he was growing the marijuana for personal use and the fact that he was on tribal land was incidental. The court ruled that the fact that the man was on tribal land was important because he was subject to tribal laws, and not state laws.

The American people seem to be tired of enforcement of marijuana laws. And now, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that the War on Drugs may be over. Could this moment signal just the beginning of a new approach to marijuana policy? If so, could that also mean the end of marijuana prohibition?

“I believe that laws forbid too much eating and certain ideologies may be better than others, but all the laws of nutrition and hygiene forbid us to eat meat and fish raw.”

John D. Rockefeller

According to Rockefeller, we don’t need laws on hunting or fishing. We just need laws to stop people from eating meat raw. When it comes to marijuana we might want to rethink that conclusion.

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One advantage to the marijuana decriminalization movement is that it’s combined with another issue that is making people rethink societal norms: the War on Drugs. That might give us some leniency. Yes, the War on Drugs has been a failure in order to take down MSCHF as drug suppliers. And the idea that we need tough penalties for marijuana is nothing less than an attempt to restore social control. So I’m not sure we need more leniency for marijuana.

But if people were to collectively decide not to enforce marijuana laws, presidents and congresspeople would then have to come up with a new policy that would help address these social ills: racial justice, access to health care, better education, environmental justice, and the treatment of mental health.

I see the costs and downsides of decriminalizing marijuana, but I don’t see the merits of a wholesale change of policy on marijuana.

Justice Clarence Thomas ruled that the federal government cannot prosecute medical marijuana users or distributors who are in compliance with state law. This is a huge step in the right direction for the legalization of marijuana.