Many brave people’s hard work lies behind the progress made in marijuana policy over the last couple of decades. It has been an uphill battle that has only recently begun to pay off in larger ways. The plant was used recreationally and medicinally by humans across the globe for thousands of years before it became the target of political focus. It came under scrutiny at the end of alcohol prohibition by an office that would have been shut down had it not found a new substance to target. It was then used as a way to deport people from Mexico. Marijuana was placed temporarily in the Schedule I drug category while the Controlled Substances Act was being drafted. This was to allow time for the plant to be investigated. It was ultimately deemed harmless, making users more “timid, drowsy and passive” but the Nixon administration did not change the classification.
A Dubious Foundation
Despite recommendations by the Shafer Commission to decriminalize marijuana, it was left a Schedule I drug, considered as dangerous as heroin and LSD, having no medicinal benefits. The reasons for this may be speculated upon. It gave authorities a way to target hippies as well as the black and Mexican communities. Decades after prohibition was put into place and reefer madness propaganda began soaking into social consciousness, it’s taking a lot of work to change marijuana policy around the country and all this comes under threat now that the Trump administration has appointed Jeff Sessions, an avid prohibitionist, as Attorney General for the U.S.
Rise of the “Drug War Dinosaur”
In April, Sessions said at a Senate hearing, “We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.” Statements such as this one represent Sessions’ ideas, although they do not reflect the campaign presented by Trump during the elections. Trump repeatedly affirmed that marijuana policy should be a state issue but the decision to make Sessions Attorney General has been a blow to marijuana advocates. It’s being called “a return to the worst days of the drug war” according to Bill Piper at Drug Policy Alliance and Ethan Nadelmann, the group’s executive director, called Sessions “a drug war dinosaur, which is the last thing the nation needs now.”
Optimism About the Future of Marijuana Policy
Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, was a little more hopeful about the situation, saying that “while the choice certainly isn’t good news for marijuana reform, I’m still hopeful the new administration will realize that any crackdown against broadly popular laws in a growing number of states would create huge political problems they don’t need and will use lots of political capital they’d be better off spending on issues the new president cares a lot more about.”
As the nation’s Attorney General, Sessions could change the federal stance on allowing states to have their own marijuana programs. He could enforce the Schedule I classification that makes it illegal on a federal level and enforce the FBI to crack down on cannabis operations across the country. 8 states (including California) and D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana and 28 states and D.C. have legalized medical marijuana. A change like this could hurt a lot of people. Only time will tell, how the administration carries out its agenda.