Pubdate: Fri, 27 Jul 2018
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2018 The Baltimore Sun Company


Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions' decision to withdraw an Obama-era directive
discouraging the enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that
have legalized pot shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with Sessions'
views on drug laws.

The attorney general has every right to enforce federal drug laws as
vigorously as he sees fit. But just because he can doesn't mean he
should. The truth is that resuming the discredited war on marijuana
would be neither a smart step nor welcome policy, and just the threat
of it is a reminder of the shortsightedness of the federal
government's approach to drugs.

The new directive doesn't in itself order stepped-up enforcement, but
it gives wide latitude to the 93 U.S. attorneys around the country to
determine what resources to devote to enforcing federal marijuana
laws. That's not a lot of guidance, and it ensures that enforcement
will vary widely even within some states -- California, for instance,
has four U.S. attorneys. The situation is further muddied by the fact
that President Trump fired all of President Obama's U.S. attorneys and
has nominated candidates for only 58 of the positions. Interim
appointees by Sessions fill many of the other seats.It's time to bring
our ossified laws over marijuana use into the 21st century.

The underlying problem is that more than half of the states have
legalized marijuana use in some form, putting them in conflict with
the federal government, which bars the cultivation, sale and use of
the drug. It was almost inevitable -- and definitely foreseeable --
that a conservative administration would seek to exert federal
authority over the issue. Perhaps the silver lining here is that the
state actions have forced a showdown that could finally pressure
Congress to resolve the issue.

This is a problem only Congress can fix. It's time for lawmakers to
relax the laws on marijuana, for both medicinal and recreational use
by adults. The nation's history on marijuana laws is framed by racism
and over-enforcement in minority communities. Under federal law, pot
is still designated (along with heroin) as a Schedule 1 drug, which
not only guarantees a thriving black market and overly tough penalties
for users, but stifles just the kind of research the nation needs to
understand both the benefits and dangers of marijuana use. Sessions
has long opposed liberalization of marijuana laws, a position based
not on science and research but on retrograde views of the sort spread
by "Reefer Madness," the 1936 movie that linked pot smoking to
decadent jazz parties and violent crimes.

Today, legalization has strong voter approval. A Gallup poll in
October found support at 64% -- an all-time high (so to speak) -- with
51% of Republicans saying they supported some form of legalization.
And many people rely on marijuana to relieve symptoms of chemotherapy,
muscle spasms from multiple sclerosis, some forms of anxiety and other
medical issues. Making a criminal act of seeking recognized medical
relief would be a crime of a different sort.

The nation should not place excessive faith in the benefits of
marijuana, nor underplay the potential harms of excessive use,
including memory issues and, among those who smoke it, lung troubles.
We need tests and standards to tell us whether people are dangerously
impaired while driving (no reliable test exists such as those that
determine alcohol impairment). Much more study needs to be done of the
effects of pot use. But a federal crackdown does nothing positive.

During the campaign, President Trump told voters that marijuana laws
"should be up to the states," implying that this was an issue his
administration wouldn't wade into. But now the government is doing
just that. Instead of making matters worse, Trump could help fix the
problem by pushing Congress to pass new laws relaxing federal
controls. It's time to bring our ossified laws over marijuana use into
the 21st century. Reviving harsh federal laws from a bygone era is not
the solution.
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