Like it or not, the politics of marijuana is likely to be front and center at the state and local level for the foreseeable future in Maryland and elsewhere.
Referendums in Washington state and Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana, effective earlier this year. The rapidity with which the business of the former contraband has taken hold has caught much of the rest of nation flat-footed.
A recent CNN report on the situation in Colorado highlighted the odd dance going on between the state and federal governments on the subject. While the federal government lists marijuana as illegal, the IRS has made provision to collect taxes from the marijuana businesses that are operating legally under the state law.
Nationally, it's a situation that is not sustainable. Certainly it would be possible to follow the post-prohibition alcohol model that allows for dry counties where the sale of booze is prohibited.
Notoriously, however, it is perfectly legal to buy a six pack of beer in a legal county and enjoy it at a private residence in a dry county. The product on sale in Washington and Colorado, however, cannot be legally transported to Maryland and then smoked in Bel Air.
It's become fairly evident Congress has no intention of dealing with the issue at a national level; medical marijuana is a reality in a dozen and a half states. Notably, medical marijuana also is legal in Washington, D.C., by virtue of action taken by the District's government. Constitutionally, the D.C. city government only has authority to enact laws so long as Congress doesn't intervene, something the national legislature hasn't seen fit to do.
Prior to flat out legalization by Colorado and Washington state, the legal status of marijuana already was tenuous relative to state and federal laws relating to medical use. The legalization by two states appears to have forced the issue, notably in Maryland, but also elsewhere. Last year, the General Assembly approved legalization of medical marijuana, and this term has spawned legislation that would further decrease restrictions on the intoxicant, up to and including potential legalization.
In Harford County last week, it was far from out of the blue that local officials started talking about their positions on whether to legalize marijuana.
Joe Ryan, head of the county's office of drug control policy, gave a presentation to the Harford County Council last week, which prompted council members to take up the subject of marijuana legalization. On the whole, the people involved in the public discussion last week were fairly hard and fast against legalization or further relaxation of state marijuana laws.
Realistically speaking, however, it's unlikely that position reflects the whole of the Harford County electorate. No doubt, more people will have more to say about the issue in the coming weeks, months and even years.
It remains to be seen if marijuana will go the way of alcohol in 1933 and become a regulated, legalized recreational intoxicant, or if the actions of Colorado and Washington state will befall the same fate as open marijuana use policies in the Netherlands, which have been scaled back in recent years.
It is, however, an issue that, given the inaction of Congress in Washington, D.C., and the federal government in general with regard to medical marijuana – especially in California – is very likely to continue coming up in local public forums like last week's county council meeting.
Ready or not, the debate appears to have begun in earnest, and it's unlikely to be decided as a national issue until after it is decided as 50 or more local issues.