The most important thing about marijuana in Trump’s speech to a joint session of Congress last Tuesday was what was left unsaid.
Starting with the fact that the word “marijuana” wasn’t used.
The speech contained two or three sentences about the supposedly unprecedented flow of drugs pouring into the country across the southern border and poisoning our young people. And it called for more support for local law enforcement’s efforts to wipe out international drug cartels operating in American cities — rhetoric which is practically de rigueur for a Republican president wanting to mollify the party’s drug war dead-ender caucus.
There was, however, no mention of or call for a crack-down on pot grown legally under state laws (or illegally for that matter) in the U.S. by Americans. Nor was there any mention of either medical or recreational marijuana dispensaries that operate legally under state laws.
Trump’s anti-drug remarks were framed entirely in the context of border security and the criminal activity of illegal aliens. You got the sense that he sees drugs almost exclusively as a rationalization for building the wall. If you didn’t know better, you could almost view his remarks as a tacit “America first” defense of the domestic marijuana industry against foreign competition.
The speech just reinforces the impression created earlier by White House spokesman Sean Spicer and Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the Trumpsters a) don’t know much about marijuana, and b) are genuinely dazed and confused as to what they should do about it.
Thus we have Spicer claiming that “there’s a big difference between [medical] and recreational marijuana”, and that “when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people” to use marijuana.
Actually, the only difference between medical and recreational marijuana is in who gets access and how they are regulated and taxed. And if Spicer genuinely thinks that marijuana is somehow responsible for the opioid crisis, he is pig-ignorant.
The cause of the opioid addiction crisis is well known, and marijuana isn’t responsible for it. Doctors writing millions of prescriptions for legal opioids are. Marijuana isn’t the gateway drug to heroin; legal opioids like oxycodone and fentanyl are — and they are also responsible for the overwhelming majority of opioid overdoses.
There is also evidence that there are lower rates of opioid overdoses in states where marijuana is legal than in states where it isn’t.
We also have Sessions saying, “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think.”
“You can’t sue somebody for a drug debt. The only way to get your money is through strong-arm tactics, and violence tends to follow that,” he adds.
Which is a more compelling argument against marijuana prohibition than against legalizing marijuana and regulating it. It’s marijuana prohibition that causes the violence, not the legal marijuana business or pot itself. With alcohol it was different; alcohol prohibition caused plenty of violence, as alcohol use itself did — and does.
It’s hard to believe the Trump administration’s marijuana policy will be based on such threadbare reasoning — especially given the fact that the president is a poll junkie and a Quinnipiac Poll released last week found the following:
• 59 percent of Americans favor legalizing recreational marijuana.
• 93 percent of Americans favor legalizing medical marijuana.
• 71 percent of Americans want the federal government to respect state laws in states where marijuana is legal.
Trump may be mercurial, but he is not stupid, and poll results like those make it abundantly clear that an attempted federal crackdown of the sort Sessions might like to see amounts to a political death wish.
The polling also suggests an obvious marijuana policy for the Trump administration: Declare that marijuana regulation should be made a matter of states’ rights and endorse passage of the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act recently introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s (R-California) and co-sponsored by a dozen others, including Boulder Rep. Jared Polis.
The bill avoids the issue of changing marijuana’s irrational Schedule I controlled substance status. The federal government can continue to treat marijuana just as irrationally and dishonestly as it has in the past, but it must respect a decision by a state government to do otherwise.
This is essentially the approach embodied in the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, which repealed the 18th Amendment and ended prohibition.
From the Trump administration’s perspective it would also have the virtue of (mixed metaphor alert) kicking the can into Congress’ court instead of down the road.