OPINION – The hopes of the cannabis culture for a federal resolution to the war on drugs went up in smoke when the Drug Enforcement Agency stubbornly refused, once again, to reclassify the herb.
Perhaps it was a face-saving decision, based on the fact that the DEA cannot accept science and realize the medicinal values of cannabis.
Perhaps it was influenced by a ticked-off president who saw pictures of his daughter purportedly smoking a joint at a music festival.
Most probably, it was influenced by the fact that if, indeed, cannabis is reclassified, Congress would use that as an excuse to cut funding for the agency.
It rendered the DEA decision DOA – dead on arrival.
Whatever the case, it was a bad decision contrary to current science that has proven the efficacy of cannabis in a variety of applications, from medicinal to recreational.
It doesn’t matter that the worst thing that can happen to you by ingesting the herb by either smoking, vaping or partaking in edibles is a vicious attack on a bag of Veggie Chips, and it doesn’t matter that research has decided that alcohol is truly the most harmful gateway drug, the DEA still wants to put pot smokers in jail.
That’s why all eyes will be on some key states when voters go to the polls in November.
They will vote on flat-out legalization of recreational use of cannabis in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada; and they will vote for the legalization of medicinal cannabis in Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota. Michigan, Missouri and Oklahoma are still working to get their measures before voters.
The heaviest impact will come from the California vote where, if voters approve this year’s Proposition 64, the federal agencies will have a heck of a problem on their hands.
In fact, if the most populous state in the union approves – and that looks like a shoo-in right now because according to polls, 64 percent of California voters plan to vote yes on Proposition 64 – then it is all over for the DEA and its adherence to a prejudicial mandate from the Nixon administration.
Nixon disliked pot smokers – the hippies, minorities and art crowd – so much that he discounted a report from the Shafer Commission – a committee of rabid, anti-drug enthusiasts that he put together – that concluded “Marihuana’s (sic) relative potential for harm to the vast majority of individual users and its actual impact on society does not justify a social policy designed to seek out and firmly punish those who use it.”
Nixon was rabid in his response, of course, because of his mindset; the former president told advisers, that people smoked pot to “get high,” while people drank alcohol simply to “have fun.” I’m not quite sure what the difference is, but I suspect it lies somewhere between dancing the polka to Lawrence Welk music and twirling at a Grateful Dead concert.
It didn’t help the cannabis crowd much that most of them were young hippies who represented the antithesis of the crewcut, Young Republican crowd of Nixon’s dreams.
And, thus, the birth of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, signed by Nixon, which classified cannabis in the same category as heroin.
None of the presidents since Nixon – including those with plentiful firsthand experience with the herb – has done a thing to change it despite plentiful evidence.
Neither has anybody else, except for the voters.
The Act provides the authority to schedule substances to the U.S. Attorney General. Over the years, that authority has been improperly delegated to the DEA, which means this is one of the only instances where the cops set the laws.
“The DEA is the modern equivalent of the Flat Earth society,” Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), told me. “They are a political agency that is in the reality-denial business and, at the end of the day, they made a decision that was based upon politics, not science. Unfortunately, scientific evidence has never guided marijuana policy in America. If it did so, our nation would already have a very different policy in place.
“Since the DEA is unwilling to approach cannabis policy reform in a rational manner, then it is incumbent that members of Congress act swiftly to amend cannabis’ criminal status in a way that comports with both public and scientific opinion.”
Congress, despite a couple of valiant efforts, has pretty much been weak-kneed in cannabis legalization. Although many have “been there and done that” in regards to cannabis use, few are willing to change an unjust law that has unfairly targeted minorities and cost us billions in taxpayer dollars.
That’s why the California vote is important.
As we know, money talks.
Especially big money.
When California goes legal for recreational use, it is expected that within a couple of years the tax revenue generated by cannabis sales will reach $1 billion. By comparison, Colorado, which has claimed success in its conversion from illicit to licit use and possession, was pleased with the $135 million it collected through taxes last year.
Add California to the mix and, well it won’t be long before the feds start reaching into the till for their share.
Even a Congressman can do the simple math here and realize the windfall between increased tax revenues and savings in law enforcement budgets.
And, all it would take is the stroke of a pen.
No unfair trade tariffs, no across-the-board tax increases, just an up-vote in Congress or the signature of the U.S. Attorney General.
I promise you, once California goes green the federal government will have no other choice.
I understand that we can’t count on Congress – particularly this one – to do the right thing. We’ve seen that play out for too long now.
But, we can count on them to take the easy way out, when they realize just how much money they have left on the table since Nixon decided he didn’t like the hippies.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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