We have ample evidence that Prohibition often creates more problems than it purports to solve. So why is Atty General Sessions moving in the wrong direction?
The renewed battle over marijuana prohibition in the U.S. is a fight the federal government will lose, much as it could not sustain the 13-yr prohibition against alcohol. The reasons are manifold. It’s a widely unpopular campaign with the public. Cannabis has been legitimized in one form or another in almost 30 states, and has well-documented medicinal properties. The primary opposition to its legalization were, until recently, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies who feared the loss of personnel, funding and prestige, and the alcohol lobby. Now the new big opponent is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who believes marijuana is an evil gateway drug with no valid uses. Welcome to the 1930’s and “Reefer Madness”.
Currently marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 Substance, alongside heroin, even though it is 100% non-lethal (see chart) has no addictive properties and various studies abroad have shown clear medical benefits. For example, it helps alleviate the nausea and loss of appetite suffered by cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, eases the pain of certain forms of arthritis without the risks of opioid addiction, is an effective treatment for glaucoma, helps control the seizures in epilepsy and reduces the pain of multiple sclerosis. There are also studies that show it may be useful in treating cancer. But, because of its Schedule I status, it is very hard to do scientific research on it in the United States, as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issues very few permits for such work.
Why the Attorney General has decided to step up the War on Weed escapes logic, but is apparently rooted in his Deep South cultural background. And Mr. Session’s position is contrary to President Trump’s campaign rhetoric about easing restrictions on Cannabis, although the latter has since been silent on the issue. With marijuana being the largest cash crop in the U.S., and its legalization in some form at the state level exists in a majority of the country, including the District of Columbia; either Mr. Sessions has opted to tilt at windmills in an effort to reclaim the past, or he’s willing to risk a major conflict with the principles of American Federalism, to force his archaic views on the public.
Currently much of the illicit marijuana in North America is grown by the Mexican drug cartels, both within their country and in many remote areas of the U.S., including on our state and federal forest lands. These domestic grows pollute the environment and place visitors to such recreational areas at great risk, as grow sites are protected by heavily armed cartel workers. Marijuana production and sale is estimated by the DEA to be about 50 percent of cartel income…billions of dollars annually. If Cannabis was fully legalized in the U.S., taxed and controlled like alcohol, not only would it put a severe crimp in cartel revenues, but it would yield needed funds for various government entities and programs. Perhaps some of that money could be dedicated to help treat and prevent opioid addiction.
Marijuana will continue to be used by people no matter its legal status, and those who can’t get it in the illicit market, have turned to synthetic substitutes that are legally sold in many bodegas and head shops. Unfortunately these are dangerous, often lethal, to users. Legalization of Cannabis would devastate the market for counterfeit marijuana and save many lives. It would also enable broad domestic research into the potential medical uses of this common weed.
If the attorney general would only look further back than his beloved mid-20th Century America, to the Prohibition Years, he would see the futility of his new crusade against marijuana. Unfortunately, with no clear policy from the White House, it seems only Congress can stop him. But the federal legislature is so polarized and gridlocked, that could take a while. If Mr. Sessions is forced from office by the president, a distinct possibility, perhaps a new attorney general with a practical 21st Century viewpoint, will take over the Justice Department and focus its anti-drug efforts on things that matter…hardcore addictive substances like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines (speed, crank) and prescription opioid diversion.
Or perhaps, if Mr. Sessions stays on, he can take a fresh, objective look at federal marijuana law enforcement, see it for the 70 year failure it is, and move the Department of Justice on to more pressing matters. A wise attorney general would allow the states to decide on how to regulate Cannabis within their respective borders and end draconian DEA requirements for scientific research into marijuana. If Jeff Sessions really wants to protect our health and safety from hazardous substances, perhaps he could send out teams of federal narcotics and FBI agents to slap cigarettes, junk food, and the 5th highball or 6th can of beer, out of people’s hands. Those are the real enemies of life.