Will the War on Marijuana Come Back in 2018?
President Trump’s Make America Great Again philosophy is a yearning for the “good” old days. Hard to say how far back, but his comments and policies would have the US pull back from environmental protections, civil rights and most recently by pursuing those that possess marijuana once again make it a priority federal crime.
At the beginning of this year, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a memo, by the former Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, which said that the federal government would look the other way so long as those states that had legalized marijuana in some way kept it from spreading to places where it remained outlawed and their actions did not promote criminal gang activity or its use by children.
Sessions served as a federal prosecutor pursuing the war on drug use in Alabama. He has blamed legal marijuana for encouraging illegal drug traffickers to grow and ship it across state lines, although he has not provided any detailed report to support such a claim. In fact, he apparently was stymied when the task force he convened to study pot policy made no recommendations for reversing the Cole memo’s hands-off approach.
In the not-to-distant past, arresting those possessing marijuana lead to a disproportionate number of arrests and convictions of African-Americans. As I point out in Becoming a Citizen Activist, data collected by the Department of Justice nationwide between 1980 and 2010 showed that police arrested black youth for drug crimes at more than twice the rate that they arrested white youth even though in that same age bracket they were using marijuana more frequently.
As recently as 2010, marijuana arrests accounted for 52 percent of all drug arrests, with nearly eight million people arrested on pot charges since 2000. And 88 percent of those arrests were for simple possession. In 2015, African Americans represent 12.5% of illicit drug users, but 29% of those arrested for drug offenses and 33% of those incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses. Scratch the surface of the war on drugs, and on the use of marijuana in particular and it’s hard to not see racial bias in enforcement.
Is Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions ignoring State’s Rights?
There was a time when the icons of the right wing intelligentsia recognized that legalizing marijuana made sense. Libertarian conservatives William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman supported legalizing marijuana. Buckley made a strong case for legalizing medical marijuana, since taking medication is at the heart of the private relationship between patients and doctors
At the grass roots level, many conservatives who support greater local political control through state rights include the use of marijuana. That community became a powerful political force when it partnered with human rights advocates in challenging the Washington State Supreme Court’s 1997 Seeley v. State decision to deny a terminal cancer patient the right to use medical marijuana. They following year of that court decision they succeeded, in conservative- and liberal-leaning counties across the state, in passing State Initiative 692 with 59 percent of the vote to make the use of medical marijuana legal in Washington.
That amalgamation of conservative and liberal voters came back in November 2012, to pass the legalization of the personal use of marijuana for adults twenty-one and over, making Washington and Colorado that year to be the first to states to do so. Legalizing marijuana got 56 percent of the vote, and unlike many other initiatives that, win or lose, have carry either the liberal west side of the state or the conservative east side in order to win. In this case, the vote took a majority in both halves of the state.
That trend has occurred around the country. According to Governing Magazine, as of April 2015, twenty-three states and the District of Columbia currently have laws legalizing marijuana in some form, with four of them legalizing marijuana for recreational use. And that number is much higher today.
While the Republicans and even the Democrats sheepishly avoid standing on the stump to defend the legalization of marijuana, the populace is there already. As long ago as in 2010 an ABC News poll revealed that 81 percent of Americans believe that medical cannabis should be legal. That trend has spread to include its legalization for recreational use. Overall, in 2017, 64 percent of those reached by the Gallup Poll said they support the legalization of marijuana, up 4 percentage points from October 2016. And now a majority of Republicans support marijuana legalization.
So why is Attorney General Sessions trying to fight this tidal wave? The general populace does not support his measure. State governments, which are now receiving revenue from the legal sale of marijuana, don’t either; they like the revenue stream. California alone is projecting to bring in $1 billion annually in tax revenue within several years.
The answer is that Sessions like other Trump appointees, such as his senior advisor Steve Miller, are ideologues committed to reversing the changes that have been shaping this nation for the last 30 years. They fear these changes, even though the majority people often support them, as is the case with the legalization of marijuana. Although Sessions has encouraged his Regional Federal Attorneys to pursue the conviction of marijuana users and businesses, he will soon discover that most of the states are not so eager. They are practical not ideologues. My advice to Sessions is to listen to what the public has repeatedly voted for and not to the narrow strata of the population that has his and Trump’s ear.
I provide further thoughts on how the politics may unfold in this new reactionary thrust from the Trump administration in the two interviews that I provided on the NorthwestCannacast.com. The host, Brian Calvert describes his program as “60 Minutes meets Legal Cannabis” news magazine show promoting information, perspective, and understanding about cannabis. Part one streamed Tuesday, January 16th with part two posted the following Tuesday, January 23rd. iTunes and Google Play also carry them.