Will Americans get the attorney-general nominee who is a foe of marijuana legalization or the friend of states’ rights?
As a candidate, President-elect Donald Trump said the issue should be left to the states, but Sen. Jeff Sessions’ views are reflected in current federal law, which is stuck in the past. Trump tapped the Alabama Republican for the top job at the U.S. Justice Department.
The consequences for Washington are significant, because it was the feds’ hands-off policy that allowed the state to implement the voters’ wishes when they passed Initiative 502 four years ago.
In the summer of 2013, then-Attorney General Eric Holder said he would allow Washington and Colorado to proceed. However, there were some stipulations, such as ensuring the drug isn’t sold to minors and making sure legally grown marijuana doesn’t materialize in states where it remains illegal.
The state Liquor and Cannabis Board embarked on a lengthy process to carefully craft guidelines that would keep the feds at bay. But all of that could unravel if Sessions adopts a hard line and strictly enforces the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, which treats marijuana as if it were heroin or LSD.
In a Senate floor speech this year, Sessions said: “You can’t have the president of the United States of America talking about marijuana like it is no different than taking a drink. … It is different.” It’s true that marijuana is different from alcohol, because the latter has exacted a far greater societal toll, but that’s not what Sessions meant. In that same speech he warned of “another surge in drug use like we saw in the ’60s and ’70s.”
A return to the “War on Drugs” would be a devastating step back to a time when lives were ruined over marijuana arrests. It failed then, and it would fail again. “Smart-justice” reforms are aimed at emptying prisons and jails of nonviolent offenders. Filling them back up with pot users would be madness.
Most Americans know it isn’t smart to smoke pot, but they also know the dangers have been wildly exaggerated, and they sure don’t want to waste billions of dollars on a lock-’em-up strategy. Governors and law enforcement officials know the biggest drug scourge today is the opioid epidemic, and nobody is talking about making pain pills illegal. Traffic cops, EMTs and trauma units know the toll of alcohol.
Medical marijuana is now legal in 28 states and has become an alternative to painkillers. But in veterans facilities, it cannot be prescribed because of federal law. However, VA doctors can prescribe pain pills, and the opioid addiction rate among veterans is nearly twice the national average.
Voters just passed eight out of nine marijuana reform measures on state ballots. Recreational marijuana measures passed in Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and California. A record 60 percent of Americans support the legalization of marijuana, according to a Gallup Poll in October.
Sessions should let the states decide. Better still, he should commence a sober review of public attitudes, criminal justice reforms and scientific research to drag federal law into the 21st century.
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