Since California’s historic passage of Proposition 215 in 1996, which made cannabis use for medicinal purposes legal, Americans have become increasingly accepting of the drug and marijuana legalization. Today, 70 percent of American voters oppose the enforcement of federal marijuana laws. But hardline conservatives aren’t buying it.
Led by attorney general Jeff Sessions, the right still insists that Americans are better off without the green. But why? Is a war on marijuana worth our time and effort?
Speaking of the war on marijuana, you may recall that this isn’t the first time this issue has come up. For the better part of the 1980s, Ronald Reagan and Republicans pushed an aggressive anti-drug agenda that ended up costing the United States billions of dollars.
Building on Richard Nixon’s philosophy that drug use should be viewed as a crime and drug users as criminals, the controlled substance act of the 1970s classified marijuana as a schedule I drug — on par with drugs like heroin, LSD and ecstasy. Cocaine and methamphetamine were considered less dangerous than pot.
Reagan’s war on drugs subjected minor offenders to lifetimes in prison for marijuana possession and distribution. For people like Sessions, that rhetoric has stuck. Even today, in Montana, you can be sentenced to 85 years for operating a state-approved dispensary. For the ignorant, that might seem like “sticking to your guns.” But what’s the point?
Locking people away costs taxpayer dollars, and the prison system in the United States is already stretched to its limits. It seems that old beliefs die hard, and the right is committed to making sure that drug use is punished, even when we’ve allowed the legal sale of other substances that we know may have adverse side effects.
Opponents to marijuana say we don’t have enough research on marijuana to know how it could harm us. But what about, for example, tobacco, which is still sold after we’ve already learned despicable things about its effect on us, as well as how that industry operates? Or the many OTC drugs that we’re now finding out are addictive or otherwise harmful, but are still shelled out like candy?
Sessions has demanded the harshest sentences possible for drug cases just as we were finally seeing some progressive movement in the way that we treat users. No country on the planet has seen success with the criminalization of cannabis. In fact, the truth is much the opposite. Decriminalizing it results in a happier, more peaceful society.
If it were highly dangerous, this would be a different conversation. It’s not. We have the data to back it up. This is just as preposterous as right-wing arguments against global climate change.
And yet in January of 2018, Sessions and other Republican leaders chose to repeal the Cole memos, which established that banks could safely hold money for marijuana dispensaries in states where cannabis is legal in some form. The memos also determined that while marijuana is not legal on the federal level, federal funding would not be used to pursue criminal marijuana cases.
It seems like an act of desperation. Sessions wants to take the attention away from his sour relationship with President Trump and show that he can accomplish something as attorney general.
What makes Sessions’ actions even more ludicrous is that even Republican leadership is divided on the issue. Only the far-right and groups like evangelical Christians continue to demonize the drug as though it’s still 1936 and Reefer Madness is still in theaters.
With crucial mid-terms around the corner, you have to wonder whether liberals who have been slow in their endorsement of marijuana will take advantage of an issue that could help unify their party. Particularly among younger voters who might not otherwise be inspired to get involved, Sessions’ attack makes pot more political than it has been in a while.
It’s another example of how the GOP is misrepresenting the American public and allowing paradigms from fifty years ago to define their worldview. That tactic may work in the short term. It might resonate with the people our president relies on to keep him in office, but the strength of the ignorant en masse is not absolute.
Those who’ve done their homework will demand better leadership on both sides of the aisle. When that day comes — and it will soon — we’re all going to have to admit that arguing over pot is behind us.