Why Is the GOP Still Fighting Marijuana Legalization?

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By Kate Haverston

Assault rifles? Sure, you can have those no problem. Pot? Well, that could be dangerous.

In an age when 86-year-old Louisianan Ann Lee is asking questions about why we continue to vilify what has been shown by science to be less harmful — and shown by commerce to be more profitable — than any number of the vices our government allows us freely, a sanity check seems in order.

Barrack Obama’s administration promised that federal money wouldn’t be wasted prosecuting crimes against Marijuana businesses in states where the drug is legalized. Jeff Sessions just repealed that legislation. But is Congress really suggesting a second-coming of Regan-era pot paranoia—even in the midst of an opioid epidemic?

Follow the Money

Session’s has fought a long battle against legal marijuana. As Attorney General, he has moved to de-stabilize the way that pot sellers finance their operations. At the same time, he’s re-authorized the federal government to pursue marijuana cases that would have otherwise gone unnoticed per instruction from an Obama-era document called the Cole memo.

The document essentially instructs the federal government not to waste resources prosecuting cases where states stand in defiance of federal law on pot. Federally, the substance is still illegal. Cole set the precedent for our government to look the other way except in dramatic cases.

Without the protections provided by the Cole memo, banks find themselves in a sticky situation when dealing with marijuana businesses. Should a bank be subject to federal investigation, handling money from the pot trade could potentially be viewed as criminal. It’s a development that has already seen commercial marijuana business stocks drop up to 9%.

After All That?

People like Mrs. Lee aren’t buying it. Lee, a staunch conservative, realized how nonsensical federal attacks on pot were after seeing the way it helped her son deal with pain following a life-changing accident. She sums up the situation quite nicely saying “The mystery to me is why Republicans respect this law like it came from Moses.

This posturing by Sessions comes at a time when many states have already legalized the drug and are in the process of creating the infrastructure needed to distribute and tax marijuana sales. And they’re not so inclined to give those tax dollars back.

But places like California and Colorado, where recreational pot has been legalized, are still outliers. For most states where marijuana is legal, it is still beholden to regulations that dictate the drug must be used for medical purposes.

For example, New York, one of our country’s most populated states, is only just now rolling out access to medical marijuana. Liberal governor Andrew Cuomo has been criticized for the highly cautious approach he has taken. Smokeable forms of cannabis aren’t even allowed under the new law.

Illinois currently holds medical marijuana to be legal, however there are no dispensaries in the state. Local government has elected not to issue any licenses for distribution centers, and as such there are only a total of 2500 or so registered patients. Pennsylvania is another example thanks to yards of red tape that define the drug’s legality, a situation many states find themselves tiptoeing through.

So it’s not like we’re on the verge of seeing the entire country consumed by amotivational syndrome. Sessions, however, is doing his best John Belushi impression with this one. He’s on a mission from God.

I Miss the Good ‘ole Days

If this feels all-too familiar in the era of Trump’s “make America 1953 again,” campaign, that’s because it is. Sessions has been a long-time enemy of legal weed, and it may be that embattled as he is, hated by his own president and the public, he sees this as a move that will appeal to the Republican base.

Some of the rhetoric that goes into prettying-up the old lie about the dangers of Marijuana is nauseating to hear. For example, one Kevin Sabet, president of a group called “Smart Approaches to Marijuana,” has compared the legalization of weed to the creation of a new Big Tobacco.

It’s comical that he would even make that reference, since congressional ties to Big Tobacco are one potential motivator not to allow marijuana businesses to thrive because they would be seen as competitors.

Even so, the treachery committed by Big Tobacco came in the form of not sharing information about drug additives and addiction—marijuana is scientifically proven not to be physically addictive. In fact the tobacco industry—and wisely so—is looking to make money off of the legalization of pot.

What Is Sessions Thinking?

Maybe our Attorney general is doing this because it’s the only thing he can do. We already cited his compromised position. When there’s nothing real to make progress on, you can still make things up, right?

Even if Sessions himself didn’t believe in this, other hardline old-school conservatives would still support it because they don’t understand how our knowledge of Marijuana use has evolved. You can say ignorance is bliss, but for medical marijuana users the truth is far more complicated than that. Thanks Jeff.

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