Clarence Thomas: US marijuana ban ‘may no longer be necessary’

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One of the U.S. Supreme Court’s most conservative justices on Monday wrote in a legal opinion that the federal government’s ongoing prohibition of cannabis might be out of date.

“A prohibition on intrastate use or cultivation of marijuana may no longer be necessary or proper to support the federal government’s piecemeal approach,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in an opinion that also denied a Colorado retailer a Supreme Court hearing in a legal fight over the merits of Section 280E of the federal tax code.

Thomas wrote that a 2005 Supreme Court ruling – Gonzales v. Raich – might now be useless from a legal standpoint because the federal government has taken a hands-off approach to the modern marijuana industry, effectively rendering its own prohibition meaningless.

“Whatever the merits of Raich when it was decided, federal policies of the past 16 years have greatly undermined its reasoning,” Thomas wrote. “The Federal Government’s current approach is a half-in, half-out regime that simultaneously tolerates and forbids local use of marijuana.”

Thomas further wrote that the case at hand – which dealt with Colorado marijuana business Standing Akimbo attempting to avoid the tax burden created by federal prohibition and 280E – is a “prime example” of the “mixed signals” coming from the federal government regarding cannabis.

Aside from taxes, Thomas also noted that marijuana businesses could run afoul of criminal laws that penalize the use of firearms while trafficking in controlled substances just by hiring armed security.

He also pointed out inconsistencies in banking practices due to federal prohibition.

“The Federal Government’s current approach to marijuana bears little resemblance to the watertight nationwide prohibition that a closely divided court found necessary to justify the Government’s blanket prohibition in Raich,” Thomas wrote.

Thomas’s sentiments mirror those of the American public and signify again that it’s time for Congress to end marijuana prohibition, NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri noted in a news release.

“Justice Thomas’ comments reflect what has been obvious to the vast majority of Americans for some time now,” Altieri said.

“This intellectually dishonest position (of federal marijuana prohibition) … complicates the ability of states to successfully regulate and oversee state-legal marijuana businesses.”