It seems perversely odd that America would elect Donald Trump at the same time that it’s mainstreaming marijuana. But hey, we live in complicated times.
Our politics are more polarized than ever, yet we’re actually moving toward a bipartisan consensus on a plant that was once broadly demonized as a dangerous social ill. In these dire times, I guess we should herald progress wherever we can find it. And that made this year’s Weed Day extra special.
For various reasons, April 20 is a celebratory day for worldwide marijuana users — including 55 million regular and occasional American imbibers — and the best thing is that we can finally raise this topic without making tired jokes about Cheech and Chong or food munchies. Some news stories yesterday insisted on referring to all users as “potheads,” but by now most of us know that’s as stupid as referring to all alcohol users as “drunks.”
With medical marijuana now legal in 29 states (including Pennsylvania and New Jersey), with recreational marijuana legal in eight states and legalizing referenda on ’17 and ’18 ballots in as many as 12 states, with $7 billion in legal cannabis sales nationwide in ’16 and a projected $20 billion by ’21, with a record 61 percent of Americans favoring full legalization and 88 percent favoring medical weed, and with partisans on both sides of the ideological divide pushing for reform, the issue has finally emerged from the dark ages.
Which means that Jeff Sessions, the reactionary attorney general, won’t get much traction if he tries to turn back the clock. And he’s certainly jonesing to do it.
In a speech last month he said: “I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use. Too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana — so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful.”
I won’t waste much space parsing all his idiocies, except to point out that nobody anywhere is talking about selling marijuana “in every corner store.” That’s certainly not how it works in Colorado. It has a tight regulatory regime; its most prominent defenders are Corey Gardner, the state’s Republican senator, and Cynthia Coffman, the state’s Republican attorney general. Pot use by Colorado teenagers has stayed flat since pot went legal (the teens’ top drug of choice is alcohol), and the ’16 sales and excise taxes on the industry pumped $127 million into state coffers – earmarked for education, health care, and transportation.
Sessions’ other doozy — marijuana fosters a “life-wrecking dependency” that’s “slightly less awful” than heroin — sounds like something from the reefer madness era. Or something clueless that Tom Corbett would’ve said when he was Pennsylvania’s governor. Basically, Sessions’ remark has been contradicted by all the serious research dating back nearly 50 years.
A 1972 federal study commissioned by President Nixon concluded that “neither the marijuana user nor the drug itself can be said to constitute a danger to public safety.” That verdict has been confirmed and amplified by, among others, the American Academy of Sciences (1999), the British Journal of Addiction (2002), the American Journal of Psychiatry (2006), and the newest research published in Scientific Reports (2015). Check out the “comparative risk” graph. The highest risk drug in America is alcohol, followed closely by heroin; way down at the bottom of the list is marijuana.
So let us note, on this eve of tomorrow’s March for Science, that the nation’s top cop has no clue, or cares not a whit, what the science says.
Sessions would love to raid the states were weed is legal — in defiance of the conservatives’ professed reverence for “state’s rights” — and propaganda minister Sean Spicer has uttered various noises about stepped-up federal action. But the good news is, the pushback would be huge.
According to a new national poll, 71 percent of Americans want the feds to leave those states alone, and a growing number of politicians are following the public’s lead. The governors of four states (including one Republican), and senators from eight states (including one Republican) have already written letters to Sessions, asking him to lay off the states.
Congress even has its own Cannabis Caucus now; two of its founding members are Republicans. One of the most prominent legal pot proponents is conservative Grover Norquist, who says: “It’s absolutely powerful now. This is a political movement. There are now guys in coats and ties making the case — not just guys in tie-died T-shirts.” And a House bill, allowing legal weed dealers to take the same tax deductions and credits as any other business, is co-sponsored by a Florida Republican, Carlos Curbelo. He says it’s about “simplifying the tax code and making it more coherent and fair.”
Heck, even Homeland Security director John Kelly said last Sunday on “Meet the Press” that even if the Trump team decides to get tough on drugs, “marijuana is not a factor in the drug war.” Wise choice. That should help our relations with Canada, because Canada is aiming to legalize marijuana next year.
And yet, despite all these developments, the feds persist in classifying pot as a Schedule I drug, on a par with heroin and LSD. (Heroin OD deaths per year: roughly 13,000. Marijuana OD deaths per year: zero.) Removing it from Schedule I would be a tiny step toward making America great again, but if it didn’t happen under Obama, it certainly won’t happen in Trumplandia. Still, let’s look at the bright side:
It’s a sign of humanitarian progress that April 20’s Weed Day trumps Hitler’s birthday.