Marijuana legalization is hardly front-page news in Alabama, but every now and then, the issue works its way into our politics.
Legalizing cannabis, pot, weed, dope — whatever you want call it — is not a universally pressing issue, but for a lot of people it is the only issue. There are entire publications and think tanks dedicated to the public policy of marijuana.
Last week, Mobile’s own Sen. Jeff Sessions made headlines when he spoke out against marijuana at a Senate panel hearing about individual states’ legalization of recreational cannabis use. While hammering Benjamin B. Wagner, the U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of California, about the Obama administration’s position on legalization, Sessions called into question the campaign behind destigmatizing marijuana. His denunciation of marijuana included questioning the character of those who smoke the occasional doobie.
“It was the prevention movement that really was so positive and that led to this decline,” Sessions said, praising past efforts to reduce drug use. “The creating of knowledge that this drug is dangerous. You cannot play with it. It is not funny. It’s not something to laugh about and trying to send that message with clarity that good people don’t smoke marijuana. And the result of that is to give that away and to make it socially acceptable creates the demand, increased demand that results in people being addicted or impacted adversely.”
Isn’t it about time we gave the sanctimonious “Footloose” town elders’ act on marijuana a rest?
For a guy who has seen his stock rise on the national stage due to his populist appeal — appearing to be in sync with the average American — Sessions is in the unusual position of occupying the losing side on this one. An Associated Press poll released last month found that support for legalization has “hit” a record high 61 percent of Americans. Previous polls on the issue show support for legalization is a trend.
That’s not to suggest Sen. Sessions should come out for legalization tomorrow, but a vociferous opposition to marijuana use doesn’t seem to be winning over anyone. If anything, it erodes Sessions’ credibility on issues that matter — trade, immigration and foreign policy.
It’s also a lost cause. We’re never going to eradicate marijuana use in this country. There’s always going to be a demand for it. Legalization by the states of Colorado and Washington state wasn’t some nefarious plot to disrupt American society, but an effort to control and regulate marijuana with the public’s safety in mind.
It’s not as if Denver and Seattle have descended into chaos.
States really are a laboratory for democracy. One key aspect to observe in this experiment is how legalization has impacted the states’ economies. Unemployment in Colorado is at a 15-year low of 3.2 percent. That contradicts the idea that legal recreational marijuana use will create a society of stoned deadbeats living off the government dole.
Washington’s unemployment rate is a little higher at 5.8 percent, but still lower than the 6.2 percent rate in Alabama, where marijuana will likely remain illegal for the foreseeable future.
It has been suggested by some legalization proponents that “Big Alcohol” is a force preventing their progress, the idea being that alcohol interests are lobbying against marijuana legalization for fear pot will cut into their intoxicant market.
Let’s say you are Jack Daniels or Budweiser and you have your lobbyists in Washington, D.C., opposing any national efforts to legalize marijuana because you are concerned about the possibility of having to compete with it.
It’s a little self-serving, but it’s a legitimate position. One hole in that argument is that legalization doesn’t seem to have impacted the beer business in Colorado or Washington. Colorado ranks third nationally in craft breweries per capita. Washington ranks eighth nationally in craft breweries per capita. It’s not as if they’re folding up shop and moving their brewery businesses to other states. They continue to thrive.
Perhaps the best argument is limiting the social costs of laws prohibiting marijuana. There were 620,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2014, according to the most recent data made available by the FBI. That’s roughly 1,700 people per day or more than one arrest per minute for marijuana.
That comes at tremendous cost, not only for the taxpayer, who must fund a criminal justice system to prosecute these crimes, but it could potentially ruin the lives of some people by putting a stain on their permanent records for something that is benign compared to other problems society is trying to get under control.
Marijuana is not the worst thing in the world. Sessions is right in that we shouldn’t glamorize it. Legalization, however, doesn’t make it glamorous. Just like other vices that are legal — be it gambling, alcohol or tobacco — there could be public service announcements warning about the dangers of marijuana if it were to be made legal.
It’s just not worth fighting anymore.