First, the good news. Staunch anti-marijuana opponent, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, lost his job as Attorney General recently. In theory, at least, this should help remove the fear that the federal government will interfere in a state’s right to make the herb legal, either medically or recreationally.
The midterms also saw some good news for cannabis. Of the four states that voted on marijuana legalization, three of them went the way of common sense. While Missouri and Utah voted ‘yes’ to medical marijuana, a recreational measure in North Dakota lost. However, residents of Michigan can now enjoy weed recreationally, as it became the tenth state to vote for it. In total, there are now 33 states (plus D.C.) that have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use.
The bad news? Federal legalization is not going to happen any time soon.
Will a New Attorney General Mean a New Marijuana Outlook?
Yes and no. Yes, insofar as there is no evidence that Matthew Whitaker, the new AG, is vehemently anti-marijuana. No, because there is little evidence to suggest that he is pro-weed either. While he supported the legalization of CBD in Iowa, he also spoke out against the AG under Obama, Eric Holder, who famously adopted a ‘hands off’ approach to cannabis and state’s rights.
Whitaker also criticized the Cole Memo, although there is a chance he only did so because of the ridiculous partisan nature of American politics. If nothing else, Whitaker is unlikely to pursue the same vendetta against weed that marked Sessions’ reign.
It is also important to note that Whitaker’s appointment is almost certainly a temporary measure. There are suggestions that his appointment is illegal, which means there will probably be another AG in place relatively soon. We have to acknowledge that the Republicans will also appointment Whitaker’s replacement, and as a result there is little chance of the next Attorney General being pro-cannabis.
The Failure of the War on Marijuana
Despite bipartisan support, we suspect it will be several years before any suggestion to legalize marijuana on a federal level will be taken seriously. If and when such a proposal takes place, it is 99% certain to happen during a Democratic Administration. When the time comes, it is important for weed proponents to get their facts straight. We need to feed the public so much information that the inevitable lies told by cannabis’ opponents are buried beneath an avalanche of truth.
The War on Marijuana has been an abject failure. As well as wasting billions of taxpayer dollars, it has ruined the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans, has been conducted with extraordinary racial bias, and has made the streets more dangerous, not ‘safer’ as anti-marijuana advocates claim.
Here are some facts about the war on weed:
- Despite using marijuana at roughly the same rate, black people are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for possession than whites. The disparity is at its worst in Iowa where you are 8.34 times more likely to be arrested if you are black.
- 88% of the 8.2 million cannabis-related arrests between 2001 and 2010 were for possession. So much for the notion of ‘tackling’ cartels.
- Enforcing marijuana laws costs $3.6 billion a year. However, the usage and availability of weed have both increased at a staggering rate.
- Between 1990 and 2010, there was an incredible 188% increase in marijuana-related arrests. This is one of the reasons why the United States has 25% of the world’s prison population, but only 5% of the total population.
- Despite the time, money, and arrests, the United States is still, by far, the world’s biggest consumer of illegal drugs.
Is Complete Legalization a Fantasy?
One of the main drivers behind the increase in marijuana arrests is the creation of ‘quotas.’ Police officers are expected to meet a specific arrest ‘target’ either on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual basis. In 1994, COMPSTAT, short for ‘computer statistics’, was introduced to the New York Police Department. COMPSTAT monitors crime patterns by location as a means of knowing where to deploy the department’s resources.
There are several means of measuring precinct performance, but one of the most controversial is arrest numbers. As a result, police officers understandably feel pressure to make more arrests. Non-violent, low-level offenses, such as marijuana possession, are low-hanging fruit.
It is encouraging that an increasing number of states are making strides towards full legalization. At the time of writing, 10 states plus D.C. allow recreational use. A further 23 states allow medicinal use, and most states have decriminalized possession of weed in small amounts. In states where weed is recreationally legal, the quota system makes less of an impact on marijuana users.
It is a step-by-step process, and there is evidence that politicians are stepping up. In the most recent midterms, several anti-marijuana politicians lost their House seats. One of the most important changes occurred in the state of Texas. Republican Pete Sessions was the Chairman of the House Rules Committee. He had been blocking votes on marijuana amendments.
As a Republican in a traditionally red state, Sessions clearly felt that he was safe, but he was badly wrong! He was defeated by Democrat, Colin Allred. How serious is Allred about marijuana reform? It is hard to say, but it is extremely encouraging that in June 2018, he called out Sessions on his refusal to acknowledge the benefits of medical marijuana on veterans struggling with chronic pain and PTSD.
Although we are dependent on politicians to take the appropriate action, it is the will of the people that drives change. First of all, anti-marijuana politicians such as Sessions were booted out of office via a vote. Moreover, cannabis legalization in most states is happening via ballot initiative.
In Michigan, Proposal 1, the legalization of recreational marijuana, passed with 55.9% of voters saying ‘YES.’ In Utah, Proposition 2, to legalize medical marijuana, passed with 52.3% of the vote, a stunning result in what is known as a dependably conservative state. In Missouri, one wonders why it took so long for Amendment 2, to legalize medical marijuana, to reach the ballot. It won with an astounding 65.54% of the vote!
We expect more dominoes to fall this year. For example, Illinois’ state governor is pro-weed Democrat J.B Pritzker. He vowed to fully legalize cannabis in 2019 and the new laws came into effect on January 1st, 2020. Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York are all states where recreational legalization is possible in the near future. A vote on medicinal marijuana is also likely in Wisconsin.
In economic terms, it is in a state’s best interests to legalize weed because of the immense tax revenues it brings. When you add in the money saved by the legal and police forces who no longer have to waste time and resources processing marijuana ‘offenders,’ it is a no-brainer.
At present, states such as California produce so much cannabis that a significant proportion is sold in other states on the black market. As long as weed remains federally illegal, the black market for weed, along with the violence it brings, will thrive. When you make weed legal, you take away ‘illegal’ activity. Yes, drug cartels will move to other narcotics, but crime rates will remain steady in the worst-case scenario.
Final Thoughts on the Potential for Federal Legalization
In the end, it will be the weight of public opinion that pushes complete legalization over the line. We can’t envisage a scenario where weed is legal recreationally throughout the United States, but there is an excellent chance of full medical legalization within a generation. As at the beginning of 2018, 62% of Americans want cannabis legalized.
Crucially, 74% of Millennials and 63% of Generation Xers are pro-weed. This is a clear sign that demographic changes are very much in favor of the herb. Only 54% of Boomers and 39% of the older ‘Silent’ Generation believe cannabis should be legalized.
We are now at a stage where over two-thirds of states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. In most states, it has happened via ballot initiative as the people made their voices heard. There will come a time when 40 states legalize weed, and half of the states will legalize it recreationally. Politicians will be forced to act or risk the wrath of the public.
Personally, I believe it is a case of looking at how Canada copes with full legalization. If our northern neighbors thrive, legalization in the U.S. could be even closer than we think.