So I really thought the silver lining of the presidential election would be a new era in cannabis law reform. “President Trump is a populist,” I've said, and according to a Quinnipiac University poll released last month, 59 percent of US voters are in support of legalization with only 36 percent wanting it to remain criminalized. “President Trump is a business man,” I've said, and according to tax data from the Colorado Department of Revenue, cannabis dispensaries there sold $1.3 billion worth of medical and recreational cannabis in 2016. “President Trump supports states’ rights,” and as of the last election, seven states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of cannabis for adults over 21.
So you can imagine my surprise when I heard the news come rumbling through the internet last week that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer had just clarified the administration's stance on legalized cannabis. “There's two distinct issues here: medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. I think medical marijuana—I've said before that the president understands the pain and suffering that many people go through who are facing especially terminal diseases, and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana, can bring to them.”
And on legalizing cannabis across the board? "When you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people," Spicer said. “There is still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.”
I don't even know where to begin arguing here. I've already covered the rising consensus that cannabis could be used to treat opioid addiction. In fact, states that have medical cannabis see a significant drop in painkiller prescriptions after the programs come online. Saying that legalization of one would make the other more attractive is a deliberately disingenuous argument that ignores the actual facts. Gross!
So I was chewing on that for days, grinding my teeth to a fine powder and cursing the White House. When all of a sudden, there arose a new clamor. This time, I caught a video of Attorney General Jeff Sessions making sure that everybody knew what was what. “My view is that crime does follow drugs,” he said, his crab-like eyes darting left and right. “I think the drugs today are more powerful, they're more addictive, and they can destroy even more lives. Young people … have their lives destroyed [sic]. I, as you know, am dubious about marijuana. States can pass whatever laws they choose, but I'm not sure we're going to be a better, healthier nation if we have marijuana being sold at every corner grocery store.”
“We'll have to work our way through that,” he said.
And in regards to the research being done on cannabis as a means to treat opioid abuse?
“Give me a break. This is the kind of argument that's been made out there to just—almost a desperate attempt to defend the harmlessness of marijuana or even its benefits. I doubt that's true. Maybe science will prove I'm wrong.”
It already has, Mister Attorney General.
Oh. And cannabis causes violence, according to the good Mr. Sessions. “Experts are telling me there's more violence around marijuana than one would think and there's big money involved,” he said. To that, I'll refer him to the 10 percent drop in the violent crime rate between 2011 and 2014 reported by the state of Washington (they legalized recreational cannabis in 2012) as well as the statement made by Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson that the rise in their city's crime rate—used as a talking point by anti-cannabis groups—probably wasn't because of cannabis. According to Denver city officials, in any given year, marijuana-related crimes in Denver make up less than 1 percent of all offenses counted in the Uniform Crime Report.
So we are clearly dealing with some dinosaur here that refuses to budge in the face of science. But here's that silver lining I was looking for. A headline from the Washington Post: “Attorney General Sessions wants to know the science on marijuana and opioids. Here it is.” Or the Observer: “Going After Marijuana Is Political Suicide—Even for Conservatives.” Or Self: “Jeff Sessions Says Legalizing Marijuana Will Boost Crime—He's Wrong.” Or GQ: “Jeff Sessions Is Already Proving That He's Exactly as Monstrous as We Thought.”
It might be hard for you beautiful millennials to remember, but hearing pro-cannabis rhetoric from major media outlets would have given me a heart attack in the '90s. So while there will almost surely be a tense and thorny road ahead for those states with better cannabis laws than ours—who will suddenly be under threat of armed thugs kicking in their doors and dragging them off to cages—the good news is that despite his worst intentions, Jeff Sessions might have just single-handedly made America pro-legalization.