Mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion should be up to the states

Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s nom­i­na­tion of Sen. Jeff Ses­sions to be U.S. at­tor­ney gen­eral raises all kinds of fears across Amer­ica, the main one be­ing his ques­tion­able com­mit­ment to civil rights, which the Jus­tice Depart­ment is sup­posed to de­fend.

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - — San Jose Mercury News, Dig­i­tal First Me­dia

But an­other area of con­cern, par­tic­u­larly for Cal­i­for­nia, his is stance on mar­i­juana. Ses­sions is a hard-line drug war­rior at a time when most of the na­tion is reg­u­late in­stead of crim­i­nal­ize mar­i­juana use.

At an April con­gres­sional hear­ing, Ses­sions re­marked that “good peo­ple don’t smoke mar­i­juana.” But re­cent pub­lic opin­ion polls have shown a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans sup­port le­gal­iza­tion, in­clud­ing polls con­ducted by Gallup and Pew Re­search find­ing sup­port at 60 per­cent and 57 per­cent re­spec­tively. That’s a lot of bad peo­ple. Un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice ef­fec­tively has taken a hands-off ap­proach to states where vot­ers ap­proved le­gal­iza­tion. But mar­i­juana re­mains a Sched­ule I drug whose distri­bu­tion and use for any pur­pose is il­le­gal un­der fed­eral law. Trump needs to con­tinue that prac­tice. If he doesn’t, the costs of fight­ing state by state will be as­tro­nom­i­cal, leav­ing less money to fight the crimes that Amer­i­cans ac­tu­ally fear

On Nov. 8, Cal­i­for­nia, Maine, Mas­sachusetts and Ne­vada voted to le­gal­ize recre­ational mar­i­juana. An ad­di­tional three — Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota — voted to al­low med­i­cal mar­i­juana, while Mon­tana voted to make it eas­ier to ac­cess med­i­cal mar­i­juana. So far 29 states plus the Dis­trict of Columbia have le­gal­ized medic­i­nal use, and eight plus the Dis­trict of Columbia per­mit recre­ational use.

Con­cerns over the abuse of pot and its danger to young peo­ple are ab­so­lutely valid. But most Amer­i­cans are no longer con­vinced that pro­hi­bi­tion and crim­i­nal­iza­tion are the right ap­proach.

Based on Ses­sions’ record, the prospects of his stay­ing hands-off are dim. “We need grown-ups in charge in Washington say­ing mar­i­juana is not the kind of thing that ought to be le­gal­ized, it ought to be min­i­mized, that it is in fact a very real danger,” he said in April.

But Trump cam­paigned on a dif­fer­ent phi­los­o­phy. “In terms of mar­i­juana and le­gal­iza­tion, I think that should be a state is­sue, state-by-state,” he said to The Washington Post last year. He later told Bill O’Reilly that he is “100 per­cent” in sup­port of med­i­cal mar­i­juana.

Trump is right on this. The hard-line pol­icy has failed, and al­low­ing states the free­dom to ex­per­i­ment with dif­fer­ing ap­proaches to com­plex prob­lems is often a good idea when vot­ers agree.

Ideally, Congress should re­move mar­i­juana from the fed­eral drug sched­ul­ing sys­tem and elim­i­nate am­bi­gu­ity about its le­gal­ity. Short of that, Trump’s Depart­ment of Jus­tice should con­tinue Obama’s hands-off pol­icy, in keep­ing with the wishes of the vast ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans.

Trump is right on this. The hard­line pol­icy has failed, and al­low­ing states the free­dom to ex­per­i­ment with dif­fer­ing ap­proaches to com­plex prob­lems is often a good idea when vot­ers agree.

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