On Sunday's episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver made the case for relaxing federal marijuana laws and regulations, spending the majority of his show discussing how and why these relaxed federal laws would benefit Americans.
Oliver started the segment by indicating how legalization of weed has gained widespread acceptance in the United States. Indeed, several state legalization measures were passed on election night in 2016 and presently, 44 states have some version of a medical marijuana law, while 8 states have also legalized recreational use, according to Oliver. Furthermore, Oliver also revealed that a recent Gallup Poll showed that today, over 60 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization, compared to only 12 percent in 1969.
However, despite this trend toward support for marijuana legalization, Oliver indicated that there are still many problems arising from the disparity between relaxed state laws and social attitudes towards marijuana and strict federal laws banning its use. For example, Oliver shared that legal marijuana businesses cannot obtain bank accounts because, in spite of their legality in their state, they are still considered criminal enterprises at the federal level and banks are not legally authorized to provide them with accounts. Furthermore, while still expected to pay federal taxes, legal marijuana businesses are actually barred from making most traditional business deductions on their federal tax forms due to their questionable federal status, resulting in them potentially paying double the amount of taxes as traditional businesses.
Beyond the business profitability issues arising from the lack of federal legalization of marijuana, legal users are also subject to many serious issues arising from the disparity in state versus federal status. First, Oliver cited the case of Brandon Coats, a paralyzed man with a legal state prescription for medical marijuana who was fired from his job when he failed a drug test. Despite engaging in a legal act, Coats was fired and received no job protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act because, as a federal law, it does not protect marijuana users.
Oliver also cited several other cases in which legal use of marijuana has caused extensive problems for Americans. He shared the story of two Michigan parents who had their 6-month-old child taken away because the state believed that the legal use of medical marijuana in their home was "too dangerous" for their child. Furthermore, Oliver revealed that veterans, for whom marijuana can provide immense relief, often have trouble acquiring it due to federal laws prohibiting inter-state transport and prohibiting its availability at VA hospitals.
To wrap up his segment, Oliver asserted that, instead of becoming more relaxed, federal marijuana laws are in danger of become more strictly enforced due to new Attorney General Jeff Sessions' vehemently anti-marijuana stance. Oliver warned that Sessions can easily repeal the Obama administration's guidelines on relaxed enforcement of federal marijuana laws, which he seems inclined to do.
Overall, Oliver used his segment to demonstrate the vast problems that derive from strict and outdated federal marijuana laws, which can significantly harm individuals and their families. While Oliver stated that he completely supports sensible regulations on marijuana, like any controlled substance, he strongly believes "federal laws desperately need to be brought up to date" for the sake of many Americans. Hopefully Sessions and other U. S. lawmakers will heed Oliver's warning and not set the United States down the path of stricter federal marijuana law enforcement.
Images: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver/HBO