The evidence is in. Every week another study confirms what many have known for millennia: cannabis is an effective treatment for inflammation, epilepsy, glaucoma, nausea, chronic pain, insomnia, PTSD, Crohn’s’, opioid addiction and much, much more. This is not to mention the costs to society—both monetary and social—of enforcing prohibition and leaving cannabis in the hands of criminals.
Yet, after decades of hard science proving that cannabis not only less harmful than beer but is actually a valuable, lifesaving medicine, our governments (federal, state and local) are still scrambling to make a case that cannabis is “the devil’s lettuce” and the worst thing to happen to America since rock-n-roll. Is this really the hallmark of democracy? Or is it the will of the few being imposed on the many?
On Thursday, Oct. 26th, President Trump made an announcement on drug policy that many Americans have been waiting for. Sixty thousand Americans died of opioid overdose last year and even more are expected to overdose in 2017. This compares to just over 39,000 US deaths from car accidents last year or 33,000 from gunshot wounds. In the face of an opioid epidemic killing Americans by the thousands in communities from coast to coast, the president promised his administration will lead “the generation that ends the opioid epidemic.”
Though the White House declared it will not “allow [the opioid crisis] to continue,” with no funding included in the package, it seems the Trump version of the “War on Drugs” might be little more than a Nancy-Reagan-esque, “Just Say No” ad campaign. Despite his moving rhetoric, President Trump’s announcement on Thursday did not include declaring “a national emergency on opioids, which would have prompted the rapid allocation of federal funding to address the issue.”
Making matters worse, Trump made no mention of cannabis or its role as a therapy for opioid dependency. Perhaps, Trump has been listening to his Reefer Mad Attorney General Jeff Sessions again. Sessions steadfastly remains so wrong-headed on cannabis that, at the same time when study after study shows cannabis is already reducing opioid deaths, Sessions insists on blaming cannabis for causing the opioid epidemic in the first place, and still claims “medical marijuana” is nothing but a sham and a menace to society. Ninety-four percent of the American public believe in medical marijuana. Which means that only 6% of Americans believe in Jeff Sessions. When you can get ninety-four percent of the public to agree on anything, it’s an accomplishment. This is a scale of belief not even religion enjoys anymore.
Of course, the cannabis community has been preaching cannabis as an exit drug for opium dependency for years. America’s current opioid problem is just another chapter in an on-going crisis, but the problem has been growing dramatically since the 90s, when America’s biggest pharmaceutical manufacturers, realized that instead of earning money by making Americans healthy, they could make more money by turning sick people into junkies.
When it comes to cannabis as a way to reduce opioid deaths, the numbers are pretty sobering. Just this week Newsweek reported Colorado has seen a 6.5% decrease opioid deaths since legalization. In August a University of Mississippi study even explained why cannabis aids in battling addiction withdrawal. Not only does cannabis blunt the pain of opioid withdrawal, it even blocks opioid pleasures.
This same week, Gallup, who has been polling Americans on cannabis legalization since 1969 announced support for federal legalization reached yet another new high, 64%. At the state level, “super-majorities of Republicans (72 percent), Independents (78 percent), and Democrats (80 percent) — believe that states should be able to enact their own marijuana laws without interference from the federal government.”
After eighty years of fake news, cannabis horror stories, and real-world drug wars, the vast majority of Americans have gotten sick of government intervention into our private lives and are in favor of legalization—including, now, Republicans. For the first time, more Republicans support national cannabis reform than ever before. Fifty-one percent of Republicans now believe that the war on cannabis has failed and prohibition should be repealed. When even the majority of marijuana’s loyal opposition start opposing prohibition, one wonders when America’s politicians will finally get the hint and call ceasefire in their war against the American people?
How long will it be before federal and state law enforcement agencies stop incarcerating American citizens, raiding shops, shutting them down, and seizing private property? How long before lawmakers stop tampering with legislation and vetoing perfectly good bills on which private citizens and lawmakers alike have spent millions of dollars and immeasurable time? How long before we stop denying sick patients badly needed medicines?
As more time goes by and the sky does not fall on states like Colorado, California, or Washington, the reality of legalization is finally outstripping decades of fearmongering about “what if.” We no longer have to rely on ominous forecasts, we can see the facts. Writing for Reason.Com, Steve Chapman noted that “we now have actual experience in states that have taken the leap, and the results refute the fears.”
NORML political director, Justin Strekal, captured the feelings of many: “It is high time that members of Congress take action to comport federal law with majority public opinion and to end the needless criminalization of marijuana – a policy failure that encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, and disproportionately impacts communities of color.”
NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano also commented on the new poll with an editorial for The Hill magazine: “Regardless of how they personally feel about cannabis, most Americans want the federal [government] to butt out. By a margin of more than six to one, Americans say that individual states should be autonomous with regard to laws governing the use and sale of marijuana, according to polling data compiled in June by Survey USA. But far too many members of Congress have yet to get the message. While the majority of Americans support legalizing the use and sale of cannabis for adults, fewer than five percent of Congressional members voice support for this position.”
The government’s position has, for more than half a century, been fully based on impotent propaganda (“the war on drugs,” “just say no,” etc.), or unnecessarily harsh attacks on minorities, sick people and honest businessmen, which basically has let criminals rule the market. As the DEA admitted this past week, the majority of American marijuana is still being sold to us by Mexican drug cartels to fund their criminal operations, when that market could be benefitting American entrepreneurs instead. No matter what progress has been made in some states, the US Drug War Clock shows that by the time you read this sentence, the various levels of US government will have spent $34 billion dollars of taxpayer money domestically to fight a war against US citizens this year alone.Not to mention that the US imports all our hemp food and other hemp products from China and Canada when that money could be going into hemp farmers here at home. Instead, we have outrageous raids on CBD stores nationwide. Five years ago, CNN reported that at that point, the War on Drugs had already cost the US a trillion dollars since 1971 and been an abject failure. Assessing the problem, billionaire Richard Branson gave the American government some sage advice that it is still refusing to heed:
“In business, if one of our companies is failing, we take steps to identify and solve the problem. What we don’t do is continue failing strategies that cost huge sums of money and exacerbate the problem. Rather than continuing on the disastrous path of the war on drugs, we need to look at what works and what doesn’t in terms of real evidence and data” — Richard Branson, 2012
But instead of accepting the facts, Jeff Sessions’ version of the DOJ claims to know better and doesn’t care what the people, science or the economy have to say. Take for example the idea of civil forfeiture. At a time when citizens and attorney generals around the country are calling to limit the practice, Sessions is trying to revive it, despite opposition from both sides of the aisle.
Sessions may be out of touch with reality, and even the opinions of his own party, but he’s right about one thing: cannabis is still against federal law and he is required to enforce the law.
Therefore, the laws, like the tide of public opinion must change. Even in the face of the ongoing struggle, we must remember the prohibitionists are losing the war one legal battle, one bill, one referendum, one poll at a time. Meanwhile, the war at large rages on. Thanks to just enough politicians who still think like Sessions, there are legal battles going on not just at the federal. Some state, counties, and cities are also being downright hostile to marijuana.
At the state level, in places like California and Michigan, state authorities have made flourishing businesses shut down until the state can get its own act together. In Florida, Massachusetts, and Maine, state governments are tampering with the bills and rules their citizens voted for.
After all, the legislature wrangling and bureaucratic ineptitude, patients in Florida have still not received the medical marijuana program they overwhelmingly voted for. As a result of the statehouses shenanigans, thousands of patients are facing months-long delays. And, the state is now facing multi-million dollar legal battles from mega-lawyer, cannabis reformer, John Morgan, and Joe Redner, a Tampa strip club owner, who are suing the state of Florida to allow smokable flower and home cultivation, respectively.
After legalization handily won at the ballot box, in Massachusetts, on a late December afternoon, while nearly everyone else in the legislature was home for the holidays, a couple of state senators voted amongst themselves to delay their state’s program by a year. When the state legislature finally did vote on approving the state’s marijuana program this summer, the original initiative was hardly recognizable.
In Maine, anti-cannabis zealot, Governor Paul LePage, has refused to acknowledge the will of his citizens. Just this week, after a year of work by his state legislature, LePage announced he intends to veto their marijuana regulations.
LePage’s obstruction efforts may earn him brownie points with the likes of Jeff Sessions, but both men should heed the latest polling. The sound of 64% of Americans calling for legalization cannot be ignored. While politicians like LePage, or even Sessions himself, may temporarily stall or block implementation, the rest of America understands they cannot veto the will of the people for much longer.