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Jonathan Green | Drug Justice

A cannabis congress

Published: Monday, March 4, 2013

Updated: Monday, March 4, 2013 02:03

 

On Feb. 5, two cannabis reform bills were introduced in Congress. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) submitted a measure that, like the successful legalization effort in his home state, would legalize and regulate cannabis like alcohol. The bill, if passed, would strip the Drug Enforcement Administration of its power to regulate cannabis and interfere with individual states’ medical and recreational programs. Earl Blumenauer’s (D-Ore.) bill would impose a taxation structure on recreational cannabis programs. If passed, either of the two bills would help deprive munchies to the prohibition-fed and racially-fueled prison industrial complex. A mere twenty days later, one week ago, Blumenauer was at it again, this time proposing a piece of legislation that would allow individual states to legalize medical cannabis without fear of federal interference. 

On the same day, Deputy Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Michael Botticelli posted a press release on whitehouse.gov. In it, he stressed that drug abuse, addiction and overdose deaths are rampant, and that only about one in 10 Americans who need treatment for addiction receive it. He called for a change in how we consider drugs and drug policy in America, writing: “A ‘war on drugs’ should not define how we can make America healthier and safer. We cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem.”Botticelli also called for “treatment not limited to those who can afford it, but available to all those who need it.” That goal is in direct contradiction with our grand tradition of incarcerating countless impoverished, mostly black and brown, drug offenders, thereby denying them treatment and perpetuating their addictions. The ONDCP’s stated goal cannot coexist with punitive drug laws that incarcerate drug users and addicts. The feds must choose: intolerance or compassion, incarceration or treatment, prohibition or not? I fear that the ONDCP’s press release indicates not only that they are committed to treating addiction as the public health issue that it is, but that it’s merely rhetorical, couching harmful prohibitionist policies in the newly-popular language of treatment.  

The following day, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Obama administration will soon decide on how the Justice Department will approach legal cannabis in Washington and Colorado. That announcement is still forthcoming, but I fear that the Justice Department will pull a prohibitionist maneuver. They may arrest street-level cannabis users, prompting a court case in which federal law may be declared to trump state law. That move, of course, would be in direct contradiction with the ONDCP’s message.

Assuming Congress does not pass either legalization effort, it is likely that the Justice Department will challenge Washington’s and Colorado’s new laws, perhaps even suing the states for violating the Controlled Substances Act. Until Congress gets on board with ending prohibition, states with legal cannabis shouldn’t expect federal non-interference.  But that’s all the more reason for lawmakers to continue their legalization push in Congress. Blumenauer is confident that there will be “about a dozen” bills introduced in Congress in the coming months to end reefer madness. Those bills could include efforts to reinstate growing industrial hemp, the non-psychoactive cannabis fiber, and reclassifying cannabis so it’s no longer officially considered to have no medicinal value and as more dangerous than cocaine and meth. The ultimate goal, though, is to replicate the end of alcohol prohibition and urge Congress to allow individual states to regulate cannabis as they wish.  And if Congress fails to do so (and they probably will many times), momentum will continue to build and the dawn of post-prohibition America will become increasingly imminent anyway. Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones said it best: if the federal government insists on prohibition, they’ll “face the wrath of the mellow masses.”

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Jonathan Green is a sophomore majoring in philosophy and American studies. He can be reached at Jonathan.Green@tufts.edu.

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