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Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas criticizes federal stance on marijuana

Updated: Nov 23, 2021

After the Supreme Court declined to hear a case brought by a Colorado dispensary, one of the court's most conservative and controversial Justices weighed-in on the debate surrounding federal marijuana prohibition. His comments have surprised many within the political and pro-cannabis communities.

Earlier this week, Justice Clarence Thomas released a statement suggesting that marijuana prohibition at the federal level may be coming to an end. His remarks came in response to the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the tax-related appeal of a Colorado dispensary after a lower court ruled against the business.

In the case, the dispensary owners argued that the Internal Revenue Service was unfairly depriving marijuana-based businesses of the same tax deductions available to other businesses. Under current law, the government classifies businesses in the marijuana industry as ineligible for standard tax deductions such as rent and employee salaries. Furthermore, most banks do not offer traditional financing options to dispensaries or other cannabis-related operations, depriving businesses of access to credit. In many instances, states require dispensaries and growers to show cash holdings in excess of $250,000 in order to open or operate, effectively locking out entrepreneurs who lack liquid capital.

While Justice Thomas' statement on the Colorado case does not carry with it the force of law, his opinion lays bare America's inconsistent handling of issues associated with marijuana. Thomas' words might also foreshadow a shift in how the legal community, at least at the federal level, views cannabis prohibition.

"Once comprehensive, the Federal Government’s current approach is a half-in, half-out regime that simultaneously tolerates and forbids local use of marijuana. This contradictory and unstable state of affairs strains basic principles of federalism and conceals traps for the unwary," said Thomas.

"A prohibition on intrastate use or cultivation of marijuana may no longer be necessary or proper to support the federal government’s piecemeal ap­proach."

Thomas' critical view of what he called a "hodge-podge" of federal policies regarding marijuana follows a trending shift in public, private, and political opinions on the plant.

Currently, 36 states allow the use of cannabis for medicinal use and 18 states allow for recreational use. Alabama is the 36th state to approve use of the plant for medical purposes.


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