(Xinhua) Michael Phelps got into deep trouble when he was shown in a photo with a marijuana pipe. Although Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott from South Carolina decided in February not to charge the 14-time Olympic gold medalist, the possible usage of marijuana by Phelps has drawn comprehensive attention on marijuana usage among youngsters and in California and other states, a debate whether to legalize marijuana.

While the U.S. has spent much efforts fighting against drug trafficking and usage, marijuana seemed to be an exemption. Federal law bans any marijuana use, whether for medical purpose or not. But 13 states including California have their own state laws to allow medical use of marijuana.

Therefore a strange situation emerged: Hundreds of marijuana dispensaries have been set up throughout California selling marijuana to people who have a doctor’s prescription. While the demand for marijuana is big, many people are growing marijuana at home to sell marijuana to the dispensaries. Since they are legal in California, local law enforcement agencies usually take no legal action against them. But under federal law, it is illegal to sell marijuana. Therefore, federal agencies would occasionally raid marijuana dispensaries and marijuana houses.

Attorney Daniel Deng explained that in the U.S., when state laws conflict with federal laws, federal laws will supersede state laws. That’s why federal agencies can come to raid local marijuana dispensaries.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced recently that federal authorities will stop raiding dispensaries in states where medical marijuana is legal. Americans for Safe Access executive director Steph Sherer said it is time to stop prosecutions, bring the prisoners home and begin working to eliminate the conflict between state and federal medical marijuana laws.

The remarks of Holder on marijuana caused some confusion even within the federal agencies. A published report says U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien in Los Angeles ordered prosecutors to stop filing charges against medical marijuana dispensaries in a confidential memo last week, but then abruptly lifted the ban last Friday.

Daniel Deng said it is unlikely the federal government would change its law on marijuana. Any change of law would come from Congress, and opposition to legalize medical marijuana is very strong.

Deng said personally he is against legalization of marijuana since it would get more young people addicted to the drug. But he is also worried that the Phelps case revealed the seriousness of young Americans taking marijuana at schools and universities.

At the state level, the battle to legalize medical marijuana is going on. California has even gone further to legalize marijuana. State assembly member Tom Ammiano announced on February 23 the introduction of a legislation that would tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.

AB 390, the Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education act, would create a regulatory structure similar to that used for beer, wine and liquor, permitting taxed sales to adults while barring sales to or possession by those under 21.

‘With the state in the midst of an historic economic crisis, the move towards regulating and taxing marijuana is simply common sense. This legislation would generate much needed revenue for the state, restrict access to only those over 21, end the environmental damage to our public lands from illicit crops, and improve public safety by redirecting law enforcement efforts to more serious crimes,’ said Ammiano. ‘California has the opportunity to be the first state in the nation to enact a smart, responsible public policy for the control and regulation of marijuana,’ he added.

Having just closed a 42 billion dollar budget deficit, generating new revenue is crucial to the state’s long term fiscal health. To legalize marijuana, the state can get one billion dollars of tax revenue annually.

Deng explained that while under federal law, to sell and grow marijuana can be misdemeanor or felony, but Colorado and Alaska state laws only charge any marijuana related offenses as infraction, which is similar to a traffic violation.

Although marijuana is less addictive, it can get users very high. That’s why marijuana is popular among youngsters. It has also been recommended by some doctors to stop pain, especially for some cancer patients.

Opponents to marijuana legalization also worried that there will be a rapid increase of people growing marijuana at home. Right now, no state in the U.S. has legalized marijuana. There are13 states that only legalize medical marijuana with doctor’s prescription. If AB 390 legislation passes in California, it would be the first in the U.S. and will have a big impact on other states. It will be much easier for people to get marijuana, just like alcohol, and more young people will face the danger to get addicted.

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