Disclaimer: This article is intended to be exclusively educational. “The Medical Bag,” PDI, or any of its affiliates neither condones nor condemns the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Biggest victory ever for the marijuana legalization movement

In November 2012, Colorado voters approved a referendum supporting the legalization of marijuana on a recreational basis. Amendment 64 of the stateconstitution will legalize and regulate the production, possession, and distribution of marijuana for persons aged 21 years and older. In a writtenstatement, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said, “The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will.” He quickly added: “This will be acomplicated process, but we intend to follow through. The federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don’t break out the Cheetos or Goldfishtoo quickly.”

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There were similar provisions on marijuana use on ballots in Washington and Oregon in November 2012. Washington State voters cast their ballots in supportof Initiative 502, a measure that will legalize and regulate the production, possession, and distribution of cannabis for persons aged 21 years and older.The Washington referendum called for a 25% tax rate imposed on the product 3 times: when the grower sells it to the processor, when the processor sells itto the retailer, and when the retailer sells it to the customer. How much tax revenue the legalization would raise is not clear; however, estimates for theWashington measure are as much as $500 million(some analysts consider this figure to be overstated).

Conversely, Oregon voters said “no” to the commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana to adults. The November 2012 Oregon measure would have legalizedmarijuana via state-licensed stores and would have also allowed unlicensed cultivation and use of marijuana by adults.

But Maine wants in. Portland Democrat Diane Russell is currently introducing legislation that would make Maine the third state to legalize marijuana forrecreational use. She says, “This bill would regulate and tax marijuana, just in a similar fashion to how we tax alcohol.” David Boyer, a spokesperson forthe Marijuana Policy Project, a group that supports legalizing marijuana, is working closely with Russell on this measure. “All the profits of marijuana goto the underground market and the drug cartels. So you know, let’s shine some light on it and bring it and give it to legitimate business owners and use itas a money maker,” Boyer said. He believes legalization is a good way for Maine to cure come of its economic ills. This is Russell’s second attempt atlegalizing marijuana in Maine for recreational use. Her first try was overwhelmingly shot down in the house (107 to 39) in June 2012. But Russell nowthinks that a door has been opened. Russell said, “After Washington State and Colorado, it became pretty evident that we were going to see legalizationcome to this state.”

Marijuana is currently classified under “Schedule I” of the Controlled Substances Act, the most tightly restricted category, reserved for drugs that have high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. It’s lumped in with drugs like heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. A legalization advocate group,Americans for Safe Access, wants to see marijuana reclassified to a less restrictive schedule.

There have been multiple proposals to remove cannabis from Schedule I since 1972. Rescheduling proponents state that cannabis does not meet the strictcriteria for the Controlled Substances Act’s placement of the drug in Schedule I, and that the government is required by law to either remove the drug fromfederal control completely or permit its medical use. The government, on the other hand, maintains that cannabis is dangerous enough to merit Schedule Istatus. The dispute is due to the differing views about interpretation of the act and what types of scientific evidence are most applicable to any decision on rescheduling.

On January 22, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit issued a ruling in a medical marijuana reclassification case. In a 2-to-1decision, the Court granted standing in the case-the right to bring a claim against the federal government-but denied the medical marijuanareclassification challenge, agreeing with the government’s assertion that “adequate and well-controlled studies” on the medical efficacy of marijuana donot exist.

The ambiguity continues: marijuana is still an illegal drug under federal law, which can override state law. To date, the federal government has notinterfered with individual state rulings on the legalization of medical marijuana or marijuana for recreational use. The Drug Enforcement Administrationrecently reiterated its stance that marijuana is an illegal drug and that possessing, using, or selling it is a federal crime.


  1. Federal court considers marijuana classification. CBS News Web site. October 16, 2012. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57533647/federal-court-considers-marijuana-classification.
  2. Historical timeline: history of marijuana as medicine-2900 BC to present. ProCon.org Web site. Updated November 7, 2012. http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000143.
  3. Poindexter R. Portland lawmaker hopes to legalize and tax marijuana for recreational use. WABI TV Web site. February 1, 2013. http://www.wabi.tv/news/37324/portland-lawmaker-hopes-to-legalize-and-tax-marijuana-for-recreational-use.
  4. Removal of cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Removal_of_cannabis_from_Schedule_I_of_the_Controlled_Substances_Act.
  5. Smith A. Federal court considers marijuana classification. CNN Money Web site. November 8, 2012. http://money.cnn.com/2012/11/07/news/economy/marijuana-legalization-washington-colorado/index.html.