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Aug. 12, 2022

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In Our View: Congress, OK Pot for Adults

Recreational marijuana valuable to state; inaction puts industry in jeopardy

The Columbian

In the years before he became attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions said some questionable things about marijuana, such as “good people don’t smoke marijuana” or that he thought members of the Ku Klux Klan were “OK, until I found out they smoked pot.”

With Sessions now the top enforcement officer of the nation’s laws, there is understandable concern among marijuana proponents, particularly in states where recreational use of the drug has been legalized — such as Washington. Yet while awaiting an indication from the attorney general as to how his department will approach marijuana enforcement, it is prudent to pay heed to another Sessions quote, this one from his confirmation hearing: “The United States Congress has made the possession in every state, and distribution, an illegal act. If that’s something that’s not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change the rule. It is not the attorney general’s job to decide which laws to enforce.”

Indeed, Congress should legalize recreational marijuana use for adults. The decades-long War on Drugs has delivered exorbitant costs upon this nation both financially and socially while providing limited benefits. As The Columbian argued editorially while supporting Washington’s Initiative 502, which passed with 56 percent of the vote in 2012, advocating for legalization does not mean that we recommend the use of marijuana; it simply means that the social stigma assigned to it is misplaced and counterproductive.

Getting federal authorities to recognize this will be difficult. Last year, the Drug Enforcement Agency confirmed marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug, placing it in the same category as LSD and heroin. This decision was supported by the assertion that there is “no accepted medical use” for cannabis — a claim disputed by millions of people who use medical marijuana to relieve pain or the symptoms of afflictions such as epilepsy or multiple sclerosis. What is lost in the discussion is that for decades the federal government has limited the growing of research-grade marijuana to one small facility at the University of Mississippi — preventing widespread study.

Under the Obama administration, the Department of Justice looked the other way while eight states approved recreational use and 29 states approved medical marijuana. Among the caveats was that states must use some revenue for anti-drug education and for safeguards to limit marijuana use by minors. But as state Attorney General Bob Ferguson has noted, if the federal government decides to press the issue, federal laws likely would trump state laws.

That could shut down an industry that, according to website, has generated more than $1.5 billion in revenue and more than $400 million in taxes in Washington since it launched in 2013. Tax revenue alone is not a reason to support an industry, but it is a tally in favor of legalized marijuana. So, too, is evidence that the drug can have medicinal benefits and that its drawbacks are more akin to those of alcohol rather than LSD or heroin.

It would be folly to expect Sessions to alter his view of marijuana, and it would be a mistake to expect President Donald Trump to follow up on his campaign assertion that the drug should be a state issue. Therefore, it is encouraging that four members of Congress have formed a Cannabis Caucus in an attempt to protect state sovereignty when it comes to marijuana.

Eventually, it will be up to Congress to ensure that logic triumphs in the marijuana debate at the federal level.

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