By Courtney Hargrave
From its medical use to decriminalization, marijuana has been a hot topic of debate recently. Currently, states have exercised their autonomy under the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to adopt legislation legalizing marijuana either medically, recreationally, or both. However, despite research indicating its medical benefits, marijuana continues to be illegal at the federal level. This dichotomy between states’ legalization and the federal government’s prohibition of marijuana has produced major conflicts in many areas. One such area is flight. Passengers traveling by airplane face specific challenges even when they are traveling from one marijuana legal state to another – the air in between is controlled by the federal government. New draft legislation has been presented for consideration and adoption that proposes legalization and decriminalization of marijuana at the federal level alleviating much of the above conflicts.
The federal law that governs marijuana use is the Controlled Substance Act (“CSA”). The CSA is also the governing authority for other controlled substances. The CSA classifies these drugs in schedules, with Schedule 1 listing those controlled substances that are completely banned because they are deemed to have no medical benefit, have no current adequate medical supervision and are likely to be abused, to Schedule 5 substances that have relatively light regulations. Each drug is evaluated before being placed on a schedule. When marijuana was first evaluated, it was placed on Schedule 1 – the same schedule as heroin. Marijuana no longer belongs on Schedule 1. Even though medical advancements have caught up with the benefits of marijuana, the CSA has yet to be amended to remove marijuana from its wrongful placement on Schedule 1.
As some states have started to adopt pro-marijuana legislation, both for medical and recreational use, the federal government still criminalizes it. Conflicts have started to arise. Despite being in a state where marijuana is legal, some employers with drug free policies may be uncomfortable hiring someone with a medical marijuana certification because the company does business nationwide, not just in one state. Random drug testing policies also pose an issue in drug free work environments, leaving employers to make a difficult decision if they should fire good employees with legal marijuana certifications just because they do business nationwide.
Medical marijuana users also face issues while traveling. Because the airspace is considered federal territory, legal users are legally prohibited from taking their prescribed medication on planes. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/2020/02/18/6-questions-about-traveling-with-marijuana-answered/ ) With rules in place like this, it is important to remember that medical marijuana is recommended by a license physician to treat a medical condition. It is much like any other prescription someone has to treat a medical condition. For example, Medical marijuana has been proven beneficial to those battling anxiety. Anxiety is common and especially prevalent in this post-Covid era in which we live. Mental health is very important, but so many people fail to seek help because they do not want harsh prescription medication with many side effects. There is an unnecessary stigma that deters some from getting help. However, many people are open to a natural remedy for their anxiety, and medical marijuana is just that.
However, users are prevented from flying on planes because of this antiquated federal regulation that does not recognize the health benefits or medical uses. Should patients with chronic pain who chose to treat their conditions with medical marijuana, a natural remedy, over some sort of narcotic, be denied access to travel on a plane? There is no choice to leave the medication at home, just as there is no choice to leave other medications at home. The federal regulations have created unnecessary conflicts.
Senator Chuck Schumer wants to eradicate these unnecessary issues. Under his proposed legislation, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, marijuana would be removed from the schedules of the CSA. (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/14/us/politics/marijuana-legalization-schumer.html) It would further erase all nonviolent marijuana based federal criminal charges. Schumer’s proposed bill would allow the FDA to regulate and then tax marijuana. It is a win for both the medical marijuana user and the government, creating consistency for marijuana users while providing tax income and reduced spending via a reduction in investigation, prosecution and incarceration costs.
This legislation will change the lives of a lot of people currently in jail and clear some clutter out of the court system. People who have been sitting in jail for years just for possession of marijuana will be released. These people are not violent criminals unable to acclimate into society. These are people held in prisons for using a substance that now has proven health benefits and is legal in certain states. With the recent overcrowding in jails, this litigation will make a huge difference. People on probation for marijuana use, or parole, will no longer have to report. Those very important resources can then be filtered through and focused on handling more important societal issues. The less time a probation officer spends on checking in on a marijuana user, the more time they can spend overseeing violent criminals and repeat offenders.
If this legislation passes as is, it will greatly improve the quality of life for many different people in many different ways. Something as simple as traveling on a plane with medical marijuana will go from having to give up their medication for a week to fly, or drive, to just being able to board a plane like anyone else. Employers will have less difficult decisions on how to handle marijuana use by employees. Those sitting in jail who are capable of being productive member of society will be able to be those productive members. Federal criminal marijuana charges on someone’s record will be erased, subsequently allowing these people to get better jobs. Of course, there are many hurdles this legislation will have to get over, but it’s a step in the right direction.
 According to Harvard Health, “one particular form of childhood epilepsy called Dravet syndrome is almost impossible to control but responds dramatically to a CBD-dominant strain of marijuana called Charlotte’s Web”. Peter Grinspoon, MD, April 10, 2020. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/medical-marijuana-2018011513085