Take a Pass On Pot Criminalization 

Before U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided last month to lead the Department of Justice in a crusade against marijuana, ending a lenient policy on the enforcement of federal pot laws, why didn't anyone tell him that's not such a great idea nor would it be very popular?

Not only is this move a step in the wrong direction and against the will of most Americans (61 percent based on a CBS News poll done last year), it's a waste of time. And not just because people should be able to roll a j and enjoy it every now and then, but because, contrary to what Sessions has inferred, cannabis is not the devil and it's not all that dangerous. It's actually got some proven benefits with few drawbacks.

Alzheimer's, PTSD, and Parkinson's are just a few of the conditions that research has discovered marijuana can help with. But the number-one benefit of the sticky plant might be its ability to alleviate chronic pain.

click to enlarge Jeff Sessions
  • Jeff Sessions

Chronic pain is something the National Institutes of Health says affects about 100 million Americans and leads thousands of doctors to prescribe dangerous and often addictive pain-killing (and mind-numbing) opioids. And when the pills run out, that doesn't necessarily mean the brain and the body are done with the drug, sometimes causing people to turn to the streets to find their fix — a recipe for disaster.

According to the Center for Disease Control's latest numbers, 48,000 people died from opioid-related incidents in 2016 — 48,000! That's more than 10 times the number of U.S. troops that have been killed in Iraq since 2003. Opioids include anything from prescription painkillers to heroin to synthetic drugs like fentanyl (a drug that can be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine).

Well, guess what? Marijuana doesn't kill. Marijuana can help. In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration reports that there are no recorded overdose deaths related to cannabis. And in states that have legalized medical marijuana, the number of opioid-related overdose deaths has decreased by just under 25 percent, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In a memo last month, Sessions said the purpose of returning to the previous policy of enforcing federal marijuana laws is "to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country."

The drug crisis? Wait, there's a pot crisis? I had no idea. There's a few crises in this country, and I wouldn't say the growing, selling, or use of weed is one. There might be a drug crisis in this country, but marijuana is far from the root of that problem.

Also, wouldn't legalizing the plant cut down on these criminal organizations and violent crimes that Sessions speaks of? There'd be a smaller need to smuggle weed, kill for it, or illegally obtain it if it were legalized and widely accessible.

It's unlikely that the change of policy will really have much effect, as the cannabis industry, both medical and recreational, is booming, with momentum, in 29 states and the District of Columbia. Also, the decision to crack down on the federal laws is still left up to local U.S. Attorneys, and many of them aren't seeing eye to eye with Sessions on the issue.

Still, it seems like a waste of time and of potentially scarce government resources to pursue prosecution for cannabis offenses. There's bigger fish that the DOJ could be frying, like working to fix the actual drug crisis surrounding opioid use, or perhaps the broken justice system or the mass incarceration of one in four black men in this country (which is exacerbated by strict marijuana possession laws in some states).

There's research, numbers, and evidence that show marijuana is not the enemy, so why are Sessions and others still stuck on 1970s legislation? When will marijuana be removed from the DEA's list of Schedule I drugs with the likes of heroin, LSD, and Ecstasy?

We'd be better off to just let the people puff, puff, pass in peace. Because good people do smoke weed, Jeff.

Maya Smith is a Flyer staff writer.

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