On October 17, the Canadian government legalized the possession and use of recreational marijuana. Canada is the first nation that legalized recreational marijuana among developed countries. Not only Canada but also a large number of countries and regions started to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use. Although the U.S federal law does not allow the use of marijuana even medically, most of the states have authorized the medical use of marijuana; some states have also allowed the recreational use of marijuana.
On the other hand, marijuana is strictly regulated all over Japan. There are several reasons why the laws to control marijuana are different in those two countries: demography, danger, and constitutions. Even though the acts that restrict marijuana seem unconstitutional in both countries, considering the contradictions between federal law and state law, the Japanese approach of the restrictions is preferable.
In the U.S., more and more states started to legalize the medical and recreational use of marijuana. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, twenty-nine states allow for the medical use of marijuana. Also, eight states have legalized marijuana possession and use to allow for recreational use. This trend of the legalization of marijuana results from widespread marijuana and its safeness especially compared to the restriction to alcohol and cigarettes. This situation seems clear that both recreational and medical uses are allowed in some states and prohibited in other states depending on the state laws. As a result, a large number of citizens who live in the states that decriminalized marijuana use consume marijuana for some reasons.
However, it might not be legal to smoke marijuana even in those states because marijuana use and possession remain illegal under federal law. Therefore, in some states, the federal law and state law contradict each other.
First, the legalization of marijuana became popular in the U.S. because of the widespread of marijuana use. A large number of American believe that marijuana use is not harmful or less harmful enough compared to alcohol or cigarettes. On the news, it is not rare to hear that some politicians, mayors, or celebrities state that they have tried marijuana in their lifetime. It is also common that one’s colleagues or their children talk about their experiences of consuming marijuana. Almost forty percent of all 12th-grade students answered to a survey that they had consumed some kinds of illegal drugs in the past, had used some sort of illicit drug in the past year, whereas almost fifty-five percent of them had drunk alcohol. This is the first time in seven years that there has been a statistically significant increase in marijuana use.
This increase in marijuana use might cause some problems because it can lead to improper methods of marijuana such as driving behavior. According to research in a college, twenty-three percent of students drove a vehicle after or while smoking marijuana in the past. Furthermore, approximately seven percent of students answered that they drove with marijuana within the past 30 days. One of the most crucial problems of widespread marijuana is that consumers tend to underestimate the danger of marijuana. More specifically, over half of Americans (53%) support the decriminalization of marijuana with 63% reporting that they believe marijuana is less harmful to society than alcohol.
Cigarettes are legalized because consumers are equipped with enough knowledge about the danger, so they can choose whether to quit considering their health; however, most current citizens do not know the harm of marijuana, so it might be a bad idea to legalize marijuana before citizens are educated about marijuana in depth. Although marijuana is as harmful as cigarettes, which are legalized, marijuana contains myriad harmful chemicals. Myriad data shows that the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana which is intoxicating is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In fact, marijuana contains more than 500 chemicals, including over 100 compounds which are related to THC. It is difficult to decide whether marijuana should be legalized, but these researches explain that a large number of citizens accept the use of marijuana or even have already tried it in the U.S.
Although numerous citizens agree on the legalization of marijuana, and there are some sorts of medical cannabis laws in 46 state, cannabis is still illegal under federal law. The federal government regulates drugs through the Controlled Substances Act, which restricts both recreational and medical use. These laws basically restrict possession, cultivation, or distribution of a huge amount of cannabis. According to federal law, marijuana is considered a controlled substance, which also includes heroin and cocaine. In order to classify the potential for abuse and medicinal value of controlled substances, the federal government divides them into schedules. Under the Controlled Substances Act, cannabis belongs to a Schedule I drug. Schedule I drug means that the federal government views cannabis as highly addictive, and they do not have any medical value. Therefore, restrictions on cannabis are not unconstitutional because it does not
Federal cannabis laws are severe, and punishment for people found guilty is frequently very steep. Federal law still considers cannabis a dangerous illegal drug with no acceptable medicinal value. Because cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug, the punishment against the criminals are relatively heavy. The possibility to be sent to jail or sentenced alternative punishment is higher depending on the amount of cannabis. “Even for a defendant with multiple prior convictions, being charged with low-level offenses may lead to probation for the entire sentence of one to twelve months, with no jail time required. Possession of over 1 kg of cannabis with no prior convictions carries a sentence of six to twelve months with a possibility of probation and alternative sentencing. Over 2.5 kg with no criminal record carries a sentence of at least six months in jail; with multiple prior convictions, a sentence might be up to two years to three years in jail with no chance for probation.”
As a result, federal law restricts possession, distribution, and cultivation of marijuana because the federal government treats marijuana as a Schedule I drug, and put heavy punishment against its violation. Even though some states started to legalize marijuana use, as described in the previous paragraph, the federal law does not decriminalize marijuana; however, United States Supreme Court held that the federal government has the constitutional authority to prohibit marijuana for all purposes. In Gonzales v. Raich (2005), a cancer patient who was caught by Federal Bureau of Investigation due to the medical use of marijuana appealed that federal law is contrary to the purpose of the Federal Constitutions and federal system. The 10th amendment says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people (10th amendment).”
Based on the 10th amendment, the patient argued that it is unconstitutional that federal law deprives the right of citizens over state law. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal of the patient and declared that federal law is not unconstitutional. Hence, this case proved that even if they reside in a state where medical marijuana, federal law enforcement officials can prosecute medical marijuana patients. This situation is extremely unclear that federal law contradicts state law. It is because this decision does not mean that the state laws that allow medical marijuana are unconstitutional, but it also does not force federal officials to prosecute the patients who consume medical marijuana. The U.S. government has to amend federal law to avoid confusion. In order to solve the contradiction between federal law and state law to protect state-level marijuana reform efforts, it is necessary to end federal marijuana prohibition or to allow state reforms to proceed.
The process of federal alcohol prohibition described a potential solution for how state-level marijuana reform efforts could be allowed to proceed. The Constitution does not mention alcohol or drug at the beginning of the constitution. The 18th Amendment was created in order to restrict alcohol use in 1919. “Specifically stating that the production, transport, and sale of alcohol was illegal. The prohibition of alcohol lasted 13 years until the Twenty-first Amendment was introduced to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment in its entirety and re-legalize alcohol (Adler).” After the Twenty-first Amendment was enacted, the federal law kept banning the distribution and the sale of alcohol even though those sales were still against the state law. Put another way, possessing, transporting and distributing alcohol in violation of state law was itself a federal offense. This remains true today.
Thus, if a business produces alcohol in one state with the intention of exporting it to another state in violation of either state’s laws, it has committed a federal crime. Through this, the federal government let each state create its own choices based on alcohol policy. Hence, this same process as alcohol should be able to work for marijuana (Adler). Compared to the U.S., Japan is famous for its strictness of the regulation of marijuana. The law called the Cannabis Control Law restricts possession of even small amounts of marijuana in any use. Even medical use of marijuana is not allowed as well as recreational use. The law also imposes heavy punishments such as five-year prison sentences. As a result, annually 200 people fall foul of these laws (secret). One of the biggest reasons why there is such a strict policy is that most Japanese citizens have negative images of Marijuana, and the number of consumers is pretty low. Even though the Cannabis Control Law reflects the demography of Japan, the act is sometimes accused as unconstitutional due to its strictness and its origin.