States, not fed should decide pot question

U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan’s proposal to decriminalize marijuana and make it legal in all 50 states is ill-conceived, as is his reasoning behind it.

Ryan in recent weeks described the federal ban on pot as “morally wrong and economically nonsensical.”

Rather, those words better describe the federal legislation he is co-sponsoring.

The congressman from Howland is co-sponsoring the Marijuana Justice Act of 2018, a bill that would, in part, eliminate federal penalties for possessing and consuming marijuana, and it would remove the schedule I designation from the plant. Schedule I drugs include heroin, cocaine and LSD and are considered to have a high potential for abuse, and no medical use.

Marijuana, of course, recently has been legalized for medicinal use in Washington, D.C., and 30 states, including Ohio, beginning next month. The drug also is now legal for recreational use in nine states and Washington, D.C.

Under Ryan’s bill, states that don’t follow suit by legalizing marijuana would be penalized by withholding federal funds, and if the Bureau of Justice Assistance determines that such a state has a disproportionate arrest rate or disproportionate incarceration rate for marijuana offenses.

The act also would expunge marijuana-related convictions in federal court and create a grant program for communities “most affected by the war on drugs,” a news release from Ryan’s office states.

“Marijuana should be legal in all 50 states,” Ryan said. “You should not be able to legally buy a product in one state, just to be arrested for the very same act in another.”

We disagree.

Rather, we believe the move to institute a federal statute and remove state’s rights to govern on this issue as one that likely will trigger costly federal court challenges and eventual defeat as a violation of the tenth amendment to the U.S. constitution, which grants to individual states those powers not delegated to the federal government.

Consider the outcome if Ryan’s thought process were to be applied to other laws and allowances in some, but not all, states.

Prostitution is legal in parts of Nevada. To apply Ryan’s reasoning, it should be legal nationwide.

Gambling is legal in many states, yet illegal in others. Should federal law dictate that all states — even those that have taken a stance against it — must now allow gambling?

Marijuana is legal for medicinal use in 30 states and D.C., but it has been legalized for recreational use in only nine states plus Washington, D.C. Certainly, that is by design as many states make a conscious effort to prohibit recreational use of this gateway drug. Ryan and all federal legislators should respect that stance and not overstep the boundaries spelled out by the states.

Ryan also argues that the American Civil Liberties Union statistics show black people are four times more likely to be arrested on a marijuana charge, even though white and black people use the drug at similar rates.

We don’t deny that is a problem — probably one that presents itself in arrest statistics for many other crimes, as well.

So wouldn’t it make much more sense to address the issue of inequality than just to erase the law?

Finally, we see Ryan’s move as morally wrong because of the negative effect marijuana already has on young people and society as a whole. As Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board Executive Director April Caraway succinctly states: Legalizing marijuana will compound already existing addiction issues surrounding the drug.

“Marijuana use disorder is in the top 10 disorders that we treat in Trumbull County. The costs of treatment, lost productivity and work time, other consequences like impaired driving and lower performance in school by adolescents are all real consequences,” Caraway said. “These are all real consequence to consider in the legalization debate.”

Ryan’s federal legislation is wrong and his reasoning is nonsensical.

This very controversial issue must be decided at the state — not federal — level.