World Weed: Cannabis and the WTO

From Slate:

In the United States, possession and distribution of marijuana is nominally illegal. But you don’t have to be Tommy Chong to know that pot’s legal status is cloudy and confused. Growing and using “medical” marijuana is legal in 11 states, and in cities like San Francisco it’s easy enough to find locally grown product. In addition to being inconsistent, as critics have long pointed out, the federal ban is also irrational. It treats marijuana differently than similar products for no obvious reason. People use prescription drugs, pot, and alcohol for the same purposes: to get high, relax, and dull pain. The consequences of abuse are similar: crashed cars, disease, and lots of wasted time. So, what makes marijuana special?

The irrationality of U.S. marijuana policy is not news. Support of legalization has made bedfellows of people like Willie Nelson and William F. Buckley Jr., backed up by Richard Posner and Dr. Dre. And a Supreme Court decision on whether the federal laws can trump state statutes in this area is expected any day. But the strange status of marijuana may also bring down the scrutiny of a different entity altogether: the World Trade Organization and its powerful condemnation of inconsistent national laws. The American ban on marijuana is what the WTO calls “a barrier to trade,” raising the question: Can U.S. marijuana policy survive the tough scrutiny of world trade law?

WTO scrutiny of American drug laws may sound far-fetched, but then until recently so did WTO scrutiny of U.S. gambling or tax laws. U.S. gambling laws, like drug laws, are erratic: Online casinos are strictly prosecuted, but state lotteries and Las Vegas are tolerated. Citing such inconsistency, last November the WTO declared American gambling enforcement an “illegal barrier to trade in services.” The fate of these gambling laws may be a guide to the future of American marijuana laws.

[Read more at Slate]