The Sad State of Medical Marijuana and Federal Exemptions

medical marijuana

The dozens of states that have legalized medical marijuana have done so with the knowledge that the drug is still illegal at the federal level. They have had to weigh the desires of their own residents against the mandates of federal law. Some have even gone as far as to petition federal agencies for exemptions that would allow them to run their programs without interference.

Iowa is one such state. This past spring (2021), state officials contacted the FDA, DOE, DEA, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. They hoped all of the federal agencies would grant the various exemptions they need to allow academic institutions to green light medical marijuana. Only the FDA has responded to date.

1.                 Disagreement in Washington

The fact that the FDA is the only agency to have responded to Iowa’s request is indicative of the big problem in Washington right now. Agencies are able to offer exemptions at the discretion of their various heads. However, federal agencies are just as polarized as the rest of the nation.

A similar request from Iowa in 2020 was met with a flat-out rejection by the DEA. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley promised to figure out what was going on with the DEA, but he has been unsuccessful thus far.

Lawmakers do not even seem to have a handle on things within their own chambers. The House passed a bill in 2020 to fully decriminalize marijuana. It never made it past the Senate. Ditto for 2021. Despite Senator Chuck Schumer’s pledge to get a decriminalization bill to the President’s desk, the issue has repeatedly been stalled in the Senate.

2.                 When Everybody Wants One

It is worth noting that Iowa is not the only state looking for exemptions. Hawaii asked for its own carve out this past spring. So did Minnesota. But here’s the thing: if every state wants an exemption from federal law, is there any point in continuing marijuana restrictions at all?

Such is the point being made by activists around the country. Their point is well taken. Even without official exemptions from the FDA, DEA, et al, Washington’s refusal to enforce federal law all but renders regulations moot. They might just as well not exist.

Unfortunately, the state of affairs in Washington has left the states in a precarious position. They are playing a game they cannot possibly win. On the one hand, voter referendums and court decisions are compelling them to legalize marijuana medically, recreational, or both. Yet they know any such action is a violation of federal law.

3.                 Treading Very Lightly

Iowa is fairly conservative when it comes to politics. So is Utah. In fact, Utah shocked the rest of the country when voters passed the state’s medical marijuana proposition back in 2019. Some two years later, a medical provider organization known as Utah Marijuana says the state is still treading very lightly.

State lawmakers are committed to guaranteeing their program remains a medical one. Yet even with the best of intentions, they are ever cognizant of the fact that Washington doesn’t agree with what they have implemented. Lawmakers have done their best to create a set of rules that keeps the federal government at bay as much as possible.

Does Utah need special exemptions from various federal agencies? If it wants to continue running its program with the guarantee of no federal interference, then yes. But right now, Washington is turning a blind eye anyway.

It is somewhat amusing when states petition Washington for medical marijuana exemptions. Their actions just demonstrate the farce that is federal drug policy.…