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.
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.