Last Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States voted 5-4 in favor of overturning state bans on gay marriage, thus making marriage between any two consenting adults legal and federally recognized in any state in the nation.
Could a similar SCOTUS ruling lead to federal marijuana legalization or medical marijuana implementation?
The country needs to be ready
There is a groundswell of pro-cannabis support, but is it big enough to support a nation-wide ruling?
The Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision came at a time when 37 states had already voted in favor of gay marriage. That’s almost ¾ of the country, a large majority.
Marijuana, on the other hand, is legal in only 4 states, decriminalized in another 15, and lawfully used as medication in 23 states. In addition, the District of Columbia has also decriminalized, legalized, and implemented medical marijuana. Another handful of states are in some process of trying to legalize, decriminalize and/or medicalize cannabis.
That’s a lot, but it’s not a majority. Even though most Americans support marijuana legalization, that most is only 51% according to the most recent Gallup poll – a pretty slim margin. Medical marijuana fares a lot better, with 75% of the country saying they support prescribing medical marijuana to relieve pain and suffering.
51% is right about where support of gay marriage was in 2012. That sentiment has, in the last three years, risen to 59% – a more pronounced majority. If support of marijuana grows at anything like gay marriage, we might be able to expect that clear majority to emerge in the next 2 or 3 years.
The right Supreme Court
After voting in favor of gay marriage and Obama Care in the last week, the current court might look to be the furthest left-leaning line-up the nation has ever seen, but they’re far from a bunch of sandal-wearing hippies. After all, a 5-4 vote isn’t exactly a landslide.
Depending on who has the next opportunity to appoint a new justice, the court could shift more toward the conservative side in the near future. That’s why it’s even more important that the case they hear be sound and urgent on the part of pro-cannabis advocacy.
The right case
Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that eventually resulted in the reversal of state gay marriage bans, had the right stuff for a Supreme Court case. It brought up contradictions in U.S. laws – concerning two men who had been legally married, but whose rights as a marred couple were denied by a state that did not recognize same sex marriages. And human sympathy was on the side of the plaintiff – James Obergefell wanted to be listed as the surviving spouse of his late husband, but was refused this by the state.
For a case to stir the same emotions and political action as Overgefell v. Hodges, it would most likely have to be a medical marijuana case. Something with urgency, human sympathy, and a whole lot of contradiction in federal vs. state laws. Everyone who uses medical marijuana laws to relieve pain or treat illness is technically breaking a federal law. Sometimes very severe ones, depending on the method of transporting, purchasing, or if a minor is involved.
If someone were federally prosecuted after lawfully ingesting cannabis products to treat a diagnosed illness, their case might be ideal for the Supreme Court. The likely result if SCOTUS were to vote pro-cannabis would not be legalization or even national MMJ implementation, but a re-classification of marijuana as a schedule I controlled substance and a ruling that federal agencies had to honor state-specific marijuana laws.
Whether through SCOTUS or Congress, the change is coming. Last Friday’s decision is proof that as values and ideas of common human decency change, laws will change along with them. It just takes a little time.
Photo via OutsideTheBeltway.com