Can Cannabis Unify Republicans and Democrats?

Once upon a time, cannabis was one of the most divisive issues in the nation. Since well before federal prohibition in 1937, cannabis—or “marihuana”—was seen either as a corrupter of young Americans’ moral fiber and a mainline to a life of violent crime or as a beneficial, all-natural antidote to an increasingly commercialized, authoritarian state predicated on a dominant military-industrial complex.

Nowadays—thankfully!—things are a bit different. An overwhelming 88% of Americans support the legalization of medical cannabis, and a strong plurality (some 61%) favor decriminalization of recreational cannabis.

But if we as a nation have banded together on the subject of cannabis legalization, in other ways, the country feels as politically polarized as ever. Kind of makes us wonder: If so many of us agree on the benefits of cannabis, could it be a way of bringing us together as a nation? And some high-profile (no pun intended) politicians are asking the very same question.

An Ambitious Democratic Proposal

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker is by any measure a rising star on the national stage. Formerly the mayor of troubled Newark, New Jersey, he earned his Senate seat in a special election in 2013. He’s seen as a bipartisan problem-solver with a focus on urban policy and criminal justice reform.

This August, Booker unveiled his proposal for legal cannabis, the Marijuana Justice Act. In addition to decriminalizing cannabis for all uses at the federal level, it’s designed to incentivize states to reform cannabis policies that have disproportionately affected citizens of color—on average, African-Americans are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for cannabis offenses, despite roughly equal rates of use as whites—and have judges retroactively review past cannabis convictions.

A Republican-Led Return to States’ Rights

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is another rising star of the Senate. At 54, he’s only a few years older than Senator Booker and comes from a proud Libertarian heritage (his father, Ron Paul, represented Texas in Congress and sought the Presidency three times in his long career).

The younger Paul approaches the issue of cannabis legalization from a different angle than Booker: The reliable Republican plank of states’ rights over those of the federal government. Essentially bypassing the question of whether or not federal laws should be rewritten, the CARERS Act proposed that, in essence, the laws of those states that opted to decriminalize cannabis should take precedence over federal statutes.   

Cannabis Law: A Hard Row to Hoe, but Hope for the Future?

Regardless of the merits of these approaches, members of the current Administration have signaled their desire to crack down on cannabis, despite candidate Trump’s pledge to leave the question up to states.

But while the Republican-led Congress shows no signs of picking up the issue, the Booker and Rand plans—even if they have little chance of passage—are a hopeful sign that cannabis will be an important issue in the 2020 election. And even now, some unlikely players are pushing for cannabis law reform behind the scenes. Who knows what the future holds for cannabis in this country? Given the last few years, it’s safe to say that all bets are off.

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How Did Cannabis Ever Become Illegal?

Nearly everyone now alive in the United States was born in an era of cannabis prohibition, and for some, the shift to legalization has been both exciting and a bit bewildering. But as cannabis enters the mainstream and—as we hope and expect—enjoys full legality soon, that calculus is going to change. More and more Americans will grow up in an environment in which cannabis is understood to be a safe drug (and powerful medicine) for responsible adult use.

So if our perspective on cannabis is largely dependent upon the year of our birth, this begs a question: Why was cannabis prohibited in the first place? Given the many thousands of years—yes, you read that correctly—of interaction with humans, how did it ever become illegal in the United States?

The United States of…Hemp?

Hemp—essentially a very low-THC cannabis plant—was a critical crop in the early days of the American colonies, so much so that the English King James I made the cultivation of hemp for ships’ sails mandatory for farmers. Growers found plenty of uses for high-THC cannabis plants, and cannabis—mostly sold in tincture and hashish form—was an important part of the American pharmacopeia, being used to treat muscle pains, anxiety, incontinence, menstrual cramps, and a host of other maladies.

The United States’ troubled relationship with our neighbor to the south may have sparked a change in perception, as Mexican immigrants in the early 20th century brought with them the practice of smoking cannabis flower, as well as their term for it: “Marihuana.” By 1925 some 26 states (out of 48 at the time) had outlawed cannabis.

Cannabis: Caught in the Tide of Prohibition

To some degree, cannabis prohibition got a boost from Prohibition, the high-water mark—or is that high-alcohol mark?—of the long-simmering temperance movement, an attempt to eradicate alcohol from the American diet.

Though alcohol has historically been associated with sustained and large-scale violence, cannabis’ unfamiliarity allowed crusaders such as future drug czar Harry Anslinger to suggest its causality in heinous violence and depravity; it’s noteworthy that these links weren’t demonstrated by any actual studies or research.

Given cannabis’ guilt by association with “undesirable” immigrants, Anslinger, publisher William Randolph Hearst, and many others were only too happy to make it a scapegoat for any number of social ills. When the Marijuana Tax Act made it to the floor of the House in 1937, it passed after less than 30 minutes of debate.

What’s Next for Marijuana: The Medical and Social Frontiers

In some ways, the current wave of legalization represents a moment of deja vu in which cannabis will once again be a commonly available medication and recreational drug for consenting adults. This time around, however, the flood of research unleashed by decriminalization offers us the opportunity to make scientifically validated statements about what cannabis can—and cannot—do. It’s a truly exciting moment as we look back to learn from the past while simultaneously looking forward to the future of cannabis in America.

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Why Is Jeff Sessions So Wrong About Cannabis?

In an administration rife with controversial figures, Attorney General Jeff Sessions certainly makes the top of the list. In his decades-long political life, he’s been accused of, among other things:

The Ku Klux Klan reference, while troubling on many levels, is indicative of the Attorney General’s policy aims. Since taking office, one of Sessions’ most consistent goals has been to curb the liberalization of cannabis laws; in July, The Hill reported that the Department of Justice was gearing up for a renewed crackdown on cannabis by attempting to link it with violent crime. As he stated in a hearing before the Senate in 2016, he believes “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

As proponents and merchants of safe, legal and well-regulated cannabis, we’re troubled, to say the least. But we take hope, for several reasons—not least of which, the broad and growing support for legal cannabis in this country; a recent poll put overall support for recreational marijuana at 61%, and medical cannabis at a whopping 88%.

As pointed out in an article by two noted cannabis policy analysts, the Attorney General is battling the tide of history. And and we all know, fighting with history rarely ends well.

Studying Cannabis from Multiple Angles

While many policy analysts have studied cannabis from a clinical, social-impact or experiential perspective, marijuana’s increasing legalization both nationally and globally is setting the stage for a new sort of research: Cannabis’ financial impact, both as an industry in its own right and as a mitigating factor in rising healthcare costs.

The authors of the article we referenced earlier—the father-daughter team of Ashley C. and W. David Bradford—recently completed a study of cannabis’ potential impact on Medicare. Unsurprisingly (to cannabis activists), they found that had all 50 states legalized medical marijuana back in 2014, a year which saw a marked increase in prescription drug costs, Medicare would have saved roughly $1 billion, and potentially quite a bit more.

Why Attorney General Jeff Sessions Is On the Wrong Side of History

Now, the Bradfords use that data, and that gathered in other studies to argue that Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ crusade against cannabis is an unwinnable, anti-historical and ultimately destructive approach. They point out:

And of course—as we mentioned earlier—the vast majority of Americans who support greater legalization represent a powerful force in their own right. In an era in which so many Americans feel politically disenfranchised, perhaps cannabis can serve as an unlikely—but powerful—unifying force. After all, regardless of our political views, we all want to live in greater liberty, health, and happiness, don’t we?

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WikiLeaks Exposes Hypocrisy of an Alcohol Industry Fighting Cannabis Legalization

It should be no surprise: “Big Booze” hates cannabis. Cannabis, notably safer than alcohol (by every measure), poses a threat to the alcohol industry’s bottom line.

So it should come as no surprise that a recent report by citing leaks from infamous whistle-blower website — WikiLeaks — shows that the alcohol industry is spending big bucks to get members of Congress to promote anti-cannabis propaganda. found a leaked DNC email in which the alcohol-industry lobby group, Wine Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA), calls for accelerated funding of Section 4008 of the FAST Act (PL 114-94) in the FY 2017 to outline impairment standards; document the prevalence of marijuana impaired driving; and, determine driving impairment detection methods.

Further, read an excerpt from a paid ad by the alcohol-industry in the May 24, 2016 edition of Huddle (a daily Politico newsletter). Emphasis in bold is mine:

"While neutral on the issue of legalization, WSWA believes states that legalize marijuana need to ensure appropriate and effective regulations are enacted to protect the public from the dangers associated with the abuse and misuse of marijuana…

In the years since the state legalized medicinal use, Colorado law enforcement officials have documented a significant increase in traffic fatalities in which drivers tested positive for marijuana…"

One problem: the "increase" in traffic fatalities was not causal to cannabis. It had nothing to do with cannabis legalization. Not only did nearly all drivers test positive for alcohol or other drugs, as well, the uptick in fatalities followed a nationwide trend attributed to more drivers on the road due to dirt-cheap gas prices. Other studies (see below), have found correlations that directly contradict “Big Booze.”

Alcohol Use Poses Far More Risk to Drivers Than Cannabis:

According to a Feb. 2015 research report — Traffic Study Facts — published by the U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the authors noted that while cannabis clearly impairs psychomotor skills, divides attention, impairs (at least, acutely) cognitive function, “its role in contributing to the occurrence of crashes remains unclear.”

More striking, however, is that in one study they analysed, researchers put the risk of cannabis consumption at 1.83 times higher than drug-free drivers, while another study found no statistically significant increase in risk. In contrast, an alcohol level of .05 BAC puts alcohol-impaired drivers at a 7x greater risk of getting in a car crash.

(Source: Washington Post)

Don’t get me wrong: Consuming cannabis and driving do not mix! In most users, it does significantly impair critical skills needed to drive safely. But, clearly the danger is greater with alcohol, a fact I don’t know “Big Booze” wants more people to recognize. Further, when people consume less alcohol, predictably, traffic fatalities decrease.

Alcohol Use Declines, Suicide Rates Drop, In States That Enact Medical Marijuana Laws:

Researchers from Montana State, San Diego State, and the University of Colorado at Denver, examined data from a period covering 17 years. In their seminal studyHigh on Life? Medical Marijuana Laws & Suicide — they reported data suggesting that after states enacted medical marijuana laws, respective state suicide rates for 20-29 year old males dropped 10.9%, and 9.4% among 30-39 year old males.

One of the notable explanations for the drop in suicide was the decline in alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse — unlike cannabis — has demonstrated a clear link to suicidal ideation, and completion.

Cannabis -- By a Wide Margin -- Is The Least Risky Social Drug:

According to a 2015 Study — Comparative risk assessment of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other illicit drugs using the margin of exposure approach — booze is 114 times more deadly than cannabis. In fact, alcohol is right at the top of the list of “most dangerous drugs” like cocaine and heroin!

(Source: Washington Post)

No doubt, "Big Alcohol" is going to fight "tooth and nail" to stall or regress efforts by the cannabis industry. But, they should be careful! The results of any such studies pushed by the alcohol industry may not elicit the results they want. The studies would more likely come out positively, unless of course, the pro-booze, anti-cannabis, lobby develops bogus, selectively reported, high bias studies -- a tactic, many have done before them.

But, thus far, most of the research provides striking data that contradicts the talking points cited by most of the anti-cannabis warriors (who are funded by the typical cast of bad actors, including):

No doubt, the accumulation of evidence and shifting of public opinion are keeping these folks up a night. Maybe, someone ought to give them a joint — so at least, they can relax a bit!


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