Justice Clarence Thomas surprises critics, says federal marijuana laws might not be necessary

As Bob Dylan so famously wrote many decades ago in a hit song by the same name, “The Times They Are a-Changin’.”

That couldn’t possibly be more true than it is today, which was evidenced this week in the U.S. Supreme Court as, according to The Hill, Justice Clarence Thomas, arguably the most conservative justice on the high court’s bench, suggested that it’s high time to consider the possibility that federal marijuana laws “may no longer be necessary.” 

“Half-in, half-out”

The bombshell statement came about as the Supreme Court denied hearing an appeal from a Colorado-based medical marijuana dispensary that was excluded from receiving lucrative, federal tax breaks that other types of businesses received.

Commenting on the subject, Thomas argued that due to the huge mixed bag of federal laws on marijuana, federal laws on the books that prevent the plant’s cultivation or use no longer make sense.

“A prohibition on interstate use or cultivation of marijuana may no longer be necessary or proper to support the federal government’s piecemeal approach,” the conservative justice wrote, which, not surprisingly, generated immediate headlines from court-watchers around the country.

Citing a 2005 Supreme Court ruling in which federal possession-related marijuana laws were seemingly enhanced, Thomas wrote that the federal policies regarding marijuana that have been put on the books since then “undermine its reasoning.”

“Once comprehensive, the Federal Government’s current approach is a half-in, half-out regime that simultaneously tolerates and forbids local use of marijuana,” Thomas added, bolstering arguments made for years by several pro-marijuana advocacy groups.

More states legalize weed

As few as ten years ago, there were only a few locations around the country where marijuana was legal for medical use and even fewer locations where it was available for recreational consumption.

But that’s certainly not the case in 2021, as a staggering 36 states now have medical marijuana laws on the books and 19 states have signed laws allowing recreational marijuana use, with the cannabis dispensary industry emerging as one of the fastest-growing in those states.

According to USA Today, Connecticut was the latest state to go all-in on making recreational use of the natural drug fully legal. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) signed the measure into law last week, becoming the 19th state to do so.

Though selling the drug still violates federal law, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a memo to the nation’s prosecutors to refrain from going after marijuana-related businesses that comply with state law.

Thomas cited that directive in his comments on the subject this week, writing that the U.S. government’s “willingness to look the other way on marijuana is more episodic than coherent.”

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