John Oliver explored America's frustratingly inconsistent marijuana laws on Sunday's Last Week Tonight, proving how individuals complying with state laws could still be at legal risk. "If you have marijuana right now, even if you are acting completely legally according to your state, you may still be in serious jeopardy," the host said.
If you look at the numbers, it's a great time to be a weed-smoker. Forty-four states currently have some form of medical marijuana law, and eight have legalized recreational use. In addition, the overall public perception of weed has been softened drastically over the decades: A recent Gallup poll that found that 60 percent of Americans favored legalization, compared to 12 percent in 1969. ("Marijuana is something we've all just gradually decided is OK, like Mark Wahlberg as a serious actor," Oliver cracked.) However, despite those major victories in the War on Drugs, the clash between state and federal laws makes it difficult to navigate the frustrating system.
As the host explained, most of these problems extend back to the "anti-drug hysteria" created by President Nixon, who signed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. That statute lists marijuana alongside heroin as a Schedule I drug, the highest possible classification, defined by the DEA as substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse."
That federal law still stands, placing tricky standards on businesses who sell weed. “Legal marijuana businesses have struggled to get bank accounts because at the federal level they are still seen as criminal enterprises," Oliver explained. "So if banks took their deposits, that could be considered money laundering. This has meant that the businesses have had to operate all-cash."
Oliver also illustrated the problem on a more human level, spotlighting a sad news story about two marijuana users from Michigan, one of whom used weed to treat epileptic seizures; the couple's month-old baby was taken away from them because their state-sanctioned home was ruled too dangerous for a child.
The host agreed that the U.S. needs "sensible restrictions on marijuana" – like a recently proposed bill that would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and remake the ATF the "Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana, Firearms and Explosives." Ultimately, he argued, "our federal laws desperately need to be brought up to date."
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