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Sessions needs to stop pushing a marijuana policy from 1957

Maybe the one bipartisan common denominator between social liberals and social conservatives is:  Weed. Hippies smoke it. Rednecks smoke it. Hipsters consume it. Grandparents can be seen wandering Crested Butte’s marijuana district in search of the green cross. Twenty-somethings with their noses buried in their Google map app follow their phones around the corner from my office and 20 minutes later shuffle back with a smile and a white envelope in their hands.

And yet the attorney general of the United States is appalled that weed is legal in varying degrees, both medicinally and recreationally, in 29 states. So he wants to crack down on it as the federal government’s top law enforcement officer.

Attorney general Jeff Sessions likens marijuana to being just “slightly less awful” than heroin. That’s just one more crazy from the current administration.

The former U.S. senator from Alabama who comes across as being more  comfortable living in 1957 than 2017 just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t want to get it. Using outdated information, he wants to restart the unwinnable war on drugs with marijuana as a prime target. He fired a shot across the bows of Colorado, Washington and Oregon recently, stating he has “serious questions” about the cannabis laws in those three states.

Sessions formed a committee called the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety in February. It appeared to be loaded with law enforcement officials who would probably recommend a crackdown on cannabis. But last week reporters from the Associated Press saw the early recommendations, which suggested that the federal government maintain the current truce with state governments to allow marijuana reform to continue.

Marijuana is no doubt a drug. It alters the mind. So does alcohol. So do cigarettes. So does sugar. But marijuana also helps many people with chronic pain issues. No one has ever OD’d on weed. It is not “slightly less awful” than heroin. It is a hell of a lot better and a lot less addictive than any opioid.

A recent Time Magazine article pointed out there is a vast difference between marijuana and heroin. One excerpt from that article:

“The statement flies in the face of the science,” said Dr. Donald Abrams, a professor of clinical medicine at the University of California–San Francisco, who has studied the health effects of marijuana. “No one has died from an overdose of cannabis. There’s abundant evidence that it is a useful intervention for chronic pain, and we may see it’s useful in harm reduction.” 

In the United States, more than half a million people have died from drug overdoses from 2000 to 2015, and currently 91 people die every day from an opioid overdose. In January, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a committee review of all research on the health impacts of cannabis since 1999, and reported that there’s substantial evidence to suggest marijuana can help people dealing with chronic pain—and that it could be an alternative to opioids.

Marijuana is a drug but it is not at the same “danger level” of other Schedule 1 drugs like heroin. It should obviously not be available to children. People should understand the ramifications of using the drug. No one should eat a whole marijuana-infused candy bar (just ask Maureen O’Dowd). But talk to just about any cop and they’ll tell you they would rather deal with someone who is stoned rather than drunk. Sessions should look at current facts and stop believing the 1950s propaganda that marijuana is the devil’s weed.

Ultimately, the great marijuana experiment, in part led by Colorado, appears to be doing pretty well. It works in Colorado and it works in Crested Butte. Embracing a 1957 tactic in 2017 will likely result in 1957 measures and results that would simply put pot back in the hands of drug cartels and gangs and demonize a weed that is proving to be a better solution to pain than legal opioid drugs.

Jeff Sessions needs to open his eyes and stop living in 1957. Given his background and beliefs, no one should ever expect Sessions to advocate for the federal legalization of marijuana, but he should definitely not interfere with progressive states that continue to regulate that inevitable transition like it is 2017.

—Mark Reaman

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