Despite the fact that cannabis legalization has spread like wildfire across the United States, federal prohibition continues to handicap the growth of this budding industry. These long held laws that many states use to criminalize the plant are based on the “Marihuana Tax Act of 1937”, legislation that was pushed by Harry Anslinger and ultimately paved the way for states to go after marijuana users, particularly minorities.
Connecticut-based lawyer named Aaron Romano is trying to change all that, arguing that many of these laws are unconstitutional because the 80 year-old federal act is deeply rooted in racism, disproportionately afflicting African-American and Mexican communities. According to the attorney, since Connecticut’s state-level cannabis prohibition is based on this federal law, it is also ingrained with bigotry and should not be permissible.
“It was racially motivated and states just adopted it wholesale. With the growing awareness of cannabis’ health benefits … at this point there is no reason to maintain its illegal status,” Romano told the Associated Press.
The Bloomfield lawyer is currently using his bold assertion in a Connecticut drug case, and is attempting to get charges of marijuana possession and probation violation against his client dropped. The defendant, William Bradley, was caught with nearly a pound of marijuana while still on probation for a previous marijuana conviction. Unable to post the hefty $150,000 bail, he is now being detained while awaiting the start of his trial. It's worth noting that, earlier this year, state lawmakers failed to pass a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana.
Similar arguments have been made in the past, but unfortunately, they have all been dismissed by the court. However, Romano believes his position is different from other unsuccessful challenges because it focuses on the discriminatory origins of prohibition.
Romano cites a variety of published sources that claim these old pot bans were drafted under racially prejudice pretenses. He states that some of the country’s first anti-cannabis measures were enacted in states with large numbers of Mexican migrants, and were put into place in order to make workers more vulnerable to prosecution.
Although Romano’s motion is unlikely to sway the favor of the judge, he still raises an interesting point that could be applied on a national level. Pretrial discussions for the case will begin this coming week, but Robert Mikos, a professor at Vanderbilt Law School and an expert on drug laws, believes the argument has almost zero probability of prevailing in court. Either way, the lawyer's claim still rings true to this very day, as minorities remain the most jeopardized by existing cannabis prohibition laws.