Supreme Court Justice Thomas signals support for federal decriminalization of marijuana

An increasing number of states have passed laws in recent years decriminalizing the recreational use of marijuana, with Connecticut becoming the latest to do so.

Another 36 states permit the drug to be obtained for medicinal purposes despite federal laws that prohibit its possession or use — and even conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recently suggested that he believes the time has come for a change.

“May no longer be necessary”

The Hill cited the justice’s statement on the matter following the high court’s decision on Thursday not to hear an appeal being pursued by one medical marijuana dispensary in Colorado.

Attorneys representing the business unsuccessfully argued that it should be entitled to the same federal tax advantages that other companies enjoy.

In his dissent, Thomas asserted that the court should revisit a ruling in Gonzales v. Raich, which held that a federal prohibition on marijuana was warranted based on the impact on interstate commerce.

“A prohibition on interstate use or cultivation of marijuana may no longer be necessary or proper to support the federal government’s piecemeal approach,” he wrote.

Thomas went on to insist that “federal policies of the past 16 years have greatly undermined” the rationale of that decision, characterizing the federal government’s stance on marijuana as being “half-in, half-out.”

“Retreated from its once-absolute ban”

That uncertainty, he wrote, “simultaneously tolerates and forbids local use of marijuana” while causing uncertainty for those involved in its sale where state law permits.

“This contradictory and unstable state of affairs strains basic principles of federalism and conceals traps for the unwary,” Thomas added, calling the latest case before the Supreme Court a “prime example” of his complaint.

“Petitioners operate a medical-marijuana dispensary in Colorado, as state law permits,” he wrote, pointing out various ways in which the federal government has helped facilitate the growth of marijuana-related businesses even as the drug remains outlawed under federal law.

“Given all these developments, one can certainly understand why an ordinary person might think that the Federal Government has retreated from its once-absolute ban on marijuana,” Thomas reasoned.

It seems that the conservative justice has just provided another argument for proponents of legalized marijuana to use in making their case.

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