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Marijuana: a Smokin' Legal Issue

By Nerissa Sardi on April 20, 2009 4:57 PM

Marijuana has regularly ranked in the top ten most searched terms on this year. Much of the recent popularity for the topic can be attributed to increased media attention on the debate for/against legalization; and current events related to the Mexican drug cartels - a major supplier of the "weed" sold in the US. 

According to the DEA, it is generally illegal to grow, own or sell marijuana. The Federal Government and all 50 states have penalties and enforcement policies pertaining to usage, possession or distribution of the drug. For Example, the Department of Justice has penalties of up to 20 years in prison and fines up to two million dollars if found guilty of trafficking marijuana.

The debate for and against legalizing marijuana for recreational use has continued for decades. Some lawmakers, like California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, argue that legalization could be a good way to regulate its usage and generate new revenue for local and state governments -- Just as alcohol and tobacco are regulated. Others,including those in law enforcement, argue that it is just too addictive and unsafe to legalize.

Pot As Medicine

The use of marijuana for medicinal purposes has been recognized by some medical experts and even some state agencies as a potentially viable treatment for certain health related illnesses. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, nine states have laws favorable to medical marijuana in opposition to the Federal Government's more stringent policies: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

Despite state laws - some passed by voters - in favor of allowing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, the Federal Government maintains jurisdiction to enforce its own laws and penalties preventing medical marijuana dispensaries from operating. Until very recently, the Federal Government regularly conducted raids on medicinal pot operations and would shut them down. Last month however, the Obama Administration halted such raids under certain circumstances while it determines the constitutionality of the enforcement. Meanwhile those on both sides of this debate lobby for changes and legal clarification when medicinal marijuana is allowed by the states.

For more information on laws related to marijuana and other illegal substances, check-out FindLaw's Crimes A to Z section:

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