People who want to see cannabis legalized nationally got a welcome surprise late last month when Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas called into question the constitutionality of federal bans on marijuana.
The opinion from one of the Court’s most conservative justices doesn’t change federal law, but it came in a year when states seem to be racing each other to license and regulate some form of legal cannabis. Since March 1, five states have enacted or solidified legislation to legalize cannabis. As of July 1, recreational marijuana was legal in 18 states and medical marijuana was legal in 36.
And that’s just part of the momentum suggesting change could come to federal cannabis laws. Last year, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed a cannabis legalization bill — the first time federal lawmakers approved such a proposal — but it was blocked in the then GOP-controlled Senate. This year, Democrats control both chambers of Congress.
That all adds up to growing optimism among many cannabis rights advocates that federal legalization might actually be on the horizon.
“I’ve always said federal legalization is not an ‘if.’ It’s always been a ‘when,’” said Adam Wilks, who’s a chief executive with the Irvine-based cannabis retail chain One Plant and for the Canadian-based investment firm Captor Capital. When Wilks read Thomas’ statements (published June 28) supporting state rights regarding cannabis, he said, “A light bulb went off in my head. Finally, the moment is here.”
If cannabis is legalized nationally, the change could have major benefits both for the industry and consumers, even in states like California where marijuana is already legal for all adults.
But others aren’t sure that federal change is imminent, insisting that Thomas’ statements were just part of his longstanding efforts to erode federal power in general. Some note that cannabis