The GOP’s War on Marijuana Is Pointless


George W. Bush was the leader of the free world when the first neo-conservatives came to power. People like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld laid the groundwork for a brand of ultra-conservatism that has evolved to shelter the bigotry and elitism we now see in the conservative base. But not even they were very concerned about legal marijuana.

Now, after the country has all-but-eliminated every aspect of the medieval Reagan-era approach to pot that holds it in the same category of drugs as heroin and LSD, the GOP needs an easy target. They have found it in marijuana, but they’re wasting their energy.

Sessions’ War on Marijuana

Even though moderate Republicans are beginning to see the virtues of embracing legal marijuana, Attorney General Jeff Sessions believes his mission to end the medicinal drug’s use is a righteous one. But why have party members who used to align perfectly with Sessions’ views deserted the cause?

Mostly because we now know a great deal more about how marijuana affects people than we did in the 70s when it was thought the drug was physically addictive and you could receive 20 years in jail for possession.

Marijuana is now legal for medical use in 29 states, and recreational use in eight. In 2018, both of those numbers could go up. In each one of those states, the government has measures in place to allow taxation of the sale of marijuana. This is a good business for the government.

Bigger Fires to Put Out

You would think that an attorney general facing a country embroiled in a deadly opioid crisis would put his energies into the epidemic that is causing upwards of 30,000 deaths per year. But Trump and Sessions, while all-too-happy to discuss the issue in televised press-conferences, won’t put their money where their mouths are.

Instead, Sessions has moved to repeal the Cole Memo, a law that protects banks who handle money from business owners dealing in marijuana. The memo established that federal prosecutors were only to pursue marijuana-related activity when it was tied to drug cartels and other illicit crimes. With the memo repealed, it’s once again open season on anyone holding a dime bag.

But cannabis isn’t the problem. In fact, it can be a weapon in the war against opioids. In states where cannabis use is legal, fatal overdoses from opiates are nearly 25% lower. The non-addictive marijuana provides an alternative for former opioid users who would otherwise turn to methadone. Methadone — effectively synthetic heroine — is also addicting and many patients never get off of it.

That creates an unsustainable situation for our healthcare system. And yet Sessions would rather see the drug, which the Obama Administration took steps to make more accessible, off the streets. The moment is over. Marijuana is coming to everyone in the United States who wants to use it. So why fight?

Pandering to the Old School

Just like the way that Trump’s campaign relied on uneducated demographics that went unrepresented in past elections, Sessions is tapping into a vigorously conservative group who fear change more than anything. To them, marijuana has always been wrong, and that’s not about to change.

Some of these people include ultra-conservative Christian groups, white nationalists, and vice president Mike Pence. In fact, President Trump has shown more progressive views on drug use than Pence and might be a deciding factor for the GOP to take a more modern stance concerning pot.

But Sessions knows he doesn’t have to win to say he tried. It’s a move that takes the focus off of his precarious position in the Russia scandal and storied ugly relationship with Donald Trump. It’s an appeal to emotion, not logic. Sessions is saying, “I’m one of you”.

But American views are evolving. It is a difficult thing to sell a country that has promoted the use of alcohol and tobacco for 200-plus years a lie about a substance — mind-altering or not — that is less harmful than both from a subjective viewpoint.

You can take a look at the number of fatal marijuana overdoses that occurred last year. Here’s a hint — that number is zero.

Kate Harveston is a political writer with an interest in social justice and progressive change. She has a background in journalism and Criminal Justice, so she enjoys anything related to law, politics, culture and the written word. In her spare time, her favorite activity is reading dystopian fiction. If you like her work, you can subscribe to her blog, Only Slightly Biased, or follow her on Twitter for updates!


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