White House vs. Weed
Views 30 | Time to read: 3 minutes | Uploaded: 3 - 7 - 2017 | By: Cameron Lee
Advocates of recreational marijuana are feeling a little confused at the moment, and not just because of the weed. While seven states and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, it is still categorized as a Schedule I drug by the DEA, and Sean Spicer has recently indicated that the Trump administration may begin enforcing the federal prohibition in states that have legalized. Fortunately, there is no indication that the administration intends to interfere with the medical use of cannabis.
Unfortunately, it seems that the federal government might soon be wasting further tax dollars on the misguided enforcement of a ban on a mostly harmless substance, instead of using that money to address real problems. Though Spicer suggested that the legalization of marijuana is somehow connected to “the opioid addiction crisis,” this claim is dubious at best. His statement could suggest one of two things: that marijuana is a ‘gateway drug,’ or that the legalization of marijuana sends a permissive message about the use of illicit substances.
Either of these claims would be rooted in error. Numerous studies have provided evidence against the ‘gateway drug’ myth. Most people who try marijuana do not move on to harder substances, and there is no evidence of a causal link which leads from marijuana use to the abuse of harder substances. As for the second interpretation of Spicer’s claim, it rests on a misunderstanding of the opioid epidemic: it is largely driven by prescription painkillers, not heroin.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, 2 million people were addicted to painkillers in 2015, while just under 600,000 people were addicted to heroin. The main problem, then, is that people are relying on prescription painkillers, and it seems less plausible that legalizing marijuana will change general attitudes regarding legal opioids.
The best policy that the Trump administration can pursue in this area is one that Republicans often praise in other areas: allow the states to make their own decisions. This is essentially the policy Obama implemented with the Cole Memo, in which federal agencies are directed to take a generally hands-off approach to enforcement in states which have chosen to permit recreational use. So long as these states assure that marijuana cultivation is not contributing to violence, revenue is not being funneled to criminal organizations, and distribution to minors is prevented, the federal government should focus on more important issues.
On another note, it is worth recognizing the economic benefit that marijuana cultivation has provided to the states. In 2016, marijuana was a billion-dollar industry for Colorado, and the state collected over $150 million in tax revenue as a result, some of which is specifically set aside to fund construction projects at public schools. If a state chooses to legitimize and tax an industry that will exist anyway, and doing so has not been demonstrated to cause any significant rises in crime rates, it seems reasonable to allow the residents of the state to make that decision.
Regardless of whether or not marijuana is illegal on the federal level, the current administration will do the most good by dedicating time and resources to other issues.