Medical marijuana is legal in nineteen states and in Washington DC, while recreational marijuana usage is legal in Colorado and Washington (Summer 2014). The strange and mysterious thing about the legal status of marijuana in these states is the fact that marijuana usage and its sale is still illegal under federal law, and as Robert Weiner, former spokesman of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, states "…let's not forget that federal law continues to trump state law." Consequently, there would seem to be a Damocles sword hanging over the entire marijuana business, yet, for those purveyors of the cannabis plant, this seems not to worry them too much.
Perhaps those in the marijuana business feel that they are relatively safe from the federal government preempting their state law, which may be the case with the current presidential administration, but certainly without clear federal guidelines going forward is not necessarily going to be the case with future administrations. In regards to state and federal power and the law, the federal government has been in ascendancy since the civil war, and certainly the federal government has triumphed over state law in regards to civil rights, birth control, and school desegregation to name just a few. Additionally, the federal government has another more subtle move that they can utilize against recalcitrant states, which could be similar to how the feds were able to convince the states to raise their drinking age from 18 to 21, in which in that case the states not in compliance with the new desired drinking age stood to lose about 10% of their federal funding for highway transportation. At the end of the day, all fifty states signed up for the new drinking age of 21, as the money involved simply was too large to walk away from and those in the subject age group of 18-20 didn't have any political muscle to fight against it successfully. Unfortunately, for the federal government the only age group in which a majority of people prefer marijuana remaining illegal is in the age group of 65+, still, where there is a will there is a way.
Another possible strategy for the states that have legalized marijuana is to test federal law and consequently to get a ruling which will help to clarify clearly and unequivocally what the feds will or will not do with legal marijuana. This test should attempt to determine: distribution age limits and ID requirements, bank and credit card transaction rules, marijuana usage on federal property within the subject state, and equity investment guidelines from out-of-state businesses or people. If this court case test does take place it will allow all parties involved to gauge how the wind is blowing with the federal government, and will help to subsequently create a firmer foundation for the businesses that are investing in capital equipment, employees, training, product, sales, security, and advertising, going forward.
The will of the people seems clearly set in the direction of either medical marijuana, or recreational marijuana being normalized within our society, and consequently as this industry matures, marijuana should be regulated much like a product such as cigarettes or alcohol, with appropriate sin taxes applied. Our federal government has an obligation to set a course and stick to it and/or to acknowledge that they will stand down.