On the heels of rumors that the Donald Trump Justice Department is eyeing options to walk back state legalization of recreational marijuana, Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears to have claimed the high level of THC in modern pot is making users violent.
Sessions, a longtime advocate of draconian U.S. drug laws, has previously claimed that his primary motivation for attacking state rights over recreational marijuana as head of the DOJ is because the drug remains illegal under federal law.
Given some of Sessions’ past statements on the issue of marijuana (i.e. “good people” don’t use it), it’s pretty safe to assume that his personal distaste for marijuana use is also part of the new AG’s motivation.
And Sessions really isn’t going out of his way to alleviate concerns that he’s willing to attack the rights of state residents to legalize and regulate marijuana because he’s interested in bringing his brand of Alabama conservatism to the DOJ.
“I don’t think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot,” he recently told reporters gathered at the DOJ. “I believe it’s an unhealthy practice, and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago, and we’re seeing real violence around that.”
While he does have an argument when he says the Justice Department will go after legal pot because it’s against federal law, Sessions’ “I think” and “I believe” statements reveal his true feelings.
Sessions believes that marijuana use is unhealthy. And that may be true. But alcohol use, tobacco use, automobile use and eating at McDonalds are also pretty bad for you based on numbers. Still, those things all remain legal, regulated and taxed.
When the AG talks about real violence and then about “very high” levels of THC, he’s making a pretty crazy statement— especially if he’s suggesting that potent marijuana is making people go batty and do violent things they otherwise would not.
We’ve heard about that “new drug menace” before, way back in 1938: “Marihuana is that drug—a violent narcotic— an unspeakable scourge— The Real Public Enemy Number One!
“It’s first effect is sudden, violent, uncontrollable laughter; then come dangerous hallucinations— space expands— time slows down, almost stands still…. Fixed ideas come next, conjuring up monstrous extravagances— followed by emotional disturbances, the total inability to direct thoughts, the loss of all power to resist physical emotions… leading finally to shocking violence… ending often in incurable insanity.”
That, of course, comes from the propaganda film “Reefer Madness.”
The film has been thoroughly debunked and serves as a kind of cultural punchline to this day. And if Sessions intends to apply the same sort of logic to his attack on the will of voters in “legalize” states, he too will become a punchline.
Sessions went on to say that “big money” involved in marijuana sales is also a problem because “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 said.
So maybe the violence Sessions is worried about comes from the trafficking of marijuana more so than the end user experience.
If that’s the case, he may need to do a little reading on the organized crime of the Prohibition era.
Marijuana Majority Chairman Tom Angell pointed out in an interview with Reason: “By talking about marijuana and violence, the attorney general is inadvertently articulating the strongest argument that exists for legalization, which is that it allows regulated markets in a way that prohibition does not. The only connection between marijuana and violence is the one that exists when illegal sellers battle it out for profits in the black market.”
Sure, traffickers are probably taking advantage of lax drug laws in some states to move marijuana to others with strict pot laws (Alabama perhaps?)— but, Angell noted, that just makes a stronger case for federal legalization and regulation.
In the meantime, the conservative thing to do is to respect states’ rights.
Sessions and other prohibitionists will say that people wanting the Justice Department to back off legal marijuana states should talk to Congress about having the federal drug laws changed. But maybe it would make more sense for the prohibitionists to do so. After all, there was never a constitutional amendment giving the federal government the authority to wage its war on drugs in the first place— so any laws regulating drug use actually fall firmly under the broad designation of powers “left to the States and the people” in the 10th Amendment.
And that gets to the heart of the problem with conservatives like Sessions. Conservatism only works when it’s rooted in respect for individual liberty and the smallest government possible. Small federal government which busies itself with handling the very few responsibilities it has under the Constitution ought to be far too busy to go around policing morality, regardless of what some folks “think” or “believe” about the personal actions of others.
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