Sending marijuana use back into the shadows only propagates the failed policies of a drug war that has contributed to mass incarceration.
Congress needs to finally act to reclassify marijuana and allow states to make the last call on its legalization — eliminating the uncertainty of a possible federal crackdown.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions created more uncertainty last week by rescinding marijuana policies implemented under the Obama administration. The Justice Department guidelines had discouraged federal marijuana prosecutions in the 29 states where it has been legalized for medical or recreational use.
In a memo to the nation’s 93 U.S. attorneys, Sessions said they could now individually decide whether to pursue marijuana cases in their jurisdictions. The policy should be no surprise coming from Sessions, a longtime anti-drug zealot who once said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
Yet President Trump had said on the campaign trail that marijuana should be a state-by-state issue. Some congressional Republicans in states that have legalized marijuana reacted in anger to the policy change, with Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado vowing to hold up all Justice Department nominations until it is reversed.
Members of Congress have the opportunity to take the issue out of the hands of this administration and future administrations if they find the political will. H.R. 975 would prohibit federal interference in states where marijuana has been legalized for medical or recreational use.
Another bill, H.R. 1227, would eliminate federal marijuana penalties and remove marijuana from being classified as a Schedule I substance. That classification includes heroin as is meant for drugs with a high potential for abuse and no medical use, a designation completely inappropriate for marijuana.
The Obama administration in 2016 rejected a bid to reclassify marijuana, despite evidence of its benefits in treating chronic pain, nausea and other medical conditions. Florida is among 21 states that have legalized medical marijuana, with another eight states also allowing its recreational use.
Marijuana growers and dispensaries in these states operate in legal uncertainty, with some banks refusing to handle their accounts due to fear of federal prosecution. Sessions’ policy potentially forces more of these businesses to only use cash, making them targets of thieves.
Marijuana was estimated to be a $7.9 billion industry in 2017, and provided needed tax revenue for states. Sending marijuana use back into the shadows only propagates the failed policies of a drug war that has contributed to mass incarceration.
With one national poll finding 93 percent support for legal medical marijuana and nearly 60 percent of Americans in favor of full legislation, the public clearly supports such an approach.
Unfortunately the harsh tactics of the war on drugs are a hard habit to break, despite their utter failure in stopping drug use. Changing marijuana’s inappropriate classification and allowing states to have the final say on legislation are good first steps at a more sensible national drug policy than the one advocated by Sessions.
This guest editorial is from the Gainesville Sun, a Daily News sister paper withRead the original article