john oliver marijuana

Screengrab via LastWeekTonight/YouTube

John Oliver calls for overhaul of U.S. federal marijuana laws

There’s a major legal gray area.


Michelle Jaworski

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More states have passed laws legalizing medical or recreational marijuana in recent years, but those laws conflicting with prohibitive federal laws have created a real problem.

“If you have marijuana right now, even if you are acting completely legally according to your state, you may still be in serious jeopardy,” John Oliver said. “And that’s not your weed-induced paranoia talking.”

Breaking it down on Last Week Tonight, Oliver demonstrated just how gray the area between state law and federal clashed. One man prescribed medical marijuana for paralysis was fired for failing a drug test—and he can’t sue under the American with Disabilities Act because that’s a federal law. Marijuana distributors can end up paying more in taxes because they can’t deduct business expenses, and in some states it’s so impossible to get legal medical marijuana patients might have to break the law anyway.

And there’s a massive penalty if you get caught: Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act, which put marijuana on the same level as heroin—even ahead of cocaine and methamphetamine. As Oliver points out, the so-called war on drugs has disproportionately affected African Americans. Although the Obama administration issued guidelines that loosened federal restrictions toward the end of his term, the current White House is against state laws legalizing it and Attorney General Jeff Sessions believes that marijuana is dangerous, having recently said that heroin was only “slightly” worse. He also opined that “good people” don’t smoke marijuana, though many veterans suffering from PTSD have said they find it helps control their symptoms.

But things are starting to change. Congress now has a Cannabis Caucus, a bipartisan effort that aims to protect state marijuana laws, and there’s at least one proposed law to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.

“Marijuana laws affect everything from environmental regulations to international treaties,” Oliver said. “And ideally, we should also go back and expunge records of people convicted of low-level marijuana offenses in the past. And all of this I know is a lot of work, which is why we should really start right now because I would argue that it is absolutely worth it.”

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