Guest editorial: Allow states to decide marijuana legalization for themselves
Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions signaled a potential change in federal marijuana policy, saying at a press conference that the Department of Justice was working “very hard right now” to develop “a rational policy” toward marijuana.
Currently, marijuana remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. While most states have allowed some form of lawful access to marijuana, including seven and the District of Columbia that have legalized marijuana for recreational use, federal law looms above them all.
As of now, the Trump administration has followed the approach of the Obama administration in taking a hands-off approach to states that chose to regulate marijuana. But with Sessions, who has publicly stated his belief that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” at the helm of the DOJ, there is great uncertainty about the course of federal action.
While it remains unclear what Sessions’ idea of a “rational policy” toward marijuana is, his remarks are understandably troubling many proponents of legalization.
“It’s my view that the use of marijuana is detrimental, and we should not give encouragement in any way to it,” he said. “And it represents a federal violation, which is in the law and it’s subject to being enforced, and our priorities will have to be focused on all the things and challenges we face.”
At least with respect to the claim that marijuana remains a federal violation, he is correct. And, setting aside the merits of federal enforcement of laws against marijuana, it remains within the powers of the federal government to prevent states from legalizing marijuana.
Ultimately, it is up to the Congress whether states and the federal government should even be in the position of having conflicting approaches to marijuana.
From a states-rights perspective, it makes sense to allow states to decide for themselves how to deal with marijuana. Decades of federal prohibition have proven that passing laws against marijuana and arresting people won’t eradicate marijuana from society.
According to the ACLU, between 2001 and 2010, there were 8.2 million arrests for marijuana nationwide, 88 percent for simple possession. Little has changed since, with the Drug Policy Alliance reporting that 41 percent of the 1.57 million drug arrests in 2016 were for marijuana.
Despite this, people continue to use, grow, sell and distribute marijuana, for better or worse, regardless of what the laws are. And as an October Gallup poll noted, most Americans, 64 percent, including a majority of Republicans, favor legalization.
Several members of Congress have introduced legislation to put an end to the failed policy of federal marijuana prohibition, and it’s time they be put to a vote.
Leaving marijuana policy to the states, rather than the whims of Jeff Sessions or any future administration, is the only rational way forward. The Congress should end the destructive federal prohibition of marijuana and allow states to make their own choices.
— Orange County Register, Dec. 5