Brookings film explores how the federal government is failing Americans on marijuana policy

Nearly 150 million Americans live in states with full medical marijuana programs, and over 17 million live in states with legal recreational marijuana. Yet, according to Governance Studies Fellow John Hudak, the federal government lags behind in its policies and regulations governing marijuana use and research. 

A new Brookings short film examines the convoluted state of marijuana policy, and illustrates the human consequences of laws that limit the research and availability of medical cannabis (CBD). In a scene shot at a marijuana growing facility, the facility operator explains the motivations behind his family’s business: “We talk to mothers that have epileptic children, kids who have 50 seizures a day. And with the CBD medicine we make, they went from 50 to zero. Zero seizures. They’re in school, they’re playing soccer. To see the emotion that comes from that was a big impetus for us.” Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn who operates the dispensary in the nation’s capital that is also featured in the film, reports that “We see people with just about every condition from just about every walk of life who find relief from medical marijuana.”

Federal policies governing cannabis use and research in the United States are contradictory, explains Hudak. With marijuana classified as a Schedule I substance, along with heroin and ecstasy, the federal government “makes medical research on a product that is continually and frequently prescribed for medicinal use all that much harder.”

In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice considers marijuana enterprises legal to operate as long as they obey state regulations and other laws, while the Internal Revenue Service considers them to be criminal organizations. “The Department of Justice and the IRS are right across the street from each other in Washington, DC, but on policy they are miles apart,” Hudak says. “Which one is right? Right now, it’s both,” he adds, before imploring the president, Congress, and federal officials to “take ownership of the disconnected set of policies, laws, and regulations that make it confusing for states and for marijuana enterprises to go on.”  

“Either marijuana is illegal, or it’s legal and regulated. But it can’t be both,” Hudak declares.

Read more from Brookings experts about marijuana policy and regulatory reform:

Ending the U.S. government’s war on medical marijuana research
– Colorado’s Rollout of Legal Marijuana Is Succeeding
– Washington’s Marijuana Legalization Grows Knowledge, Not Just Pot

See an archive of all Brookings research and commentary on marijuana policy.