Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced this week an end to policies covering the Justice Department’s approach to state cannabis legalization that were enacted during the Obama administration. Under the policies, outlined in three Justice Department memos sent while Obama was president, the federal government took a decidedly lax approach to investigating and prosecuting the growth and sale of cannabis in states that have legalized it for medical or recreational purposes. The idea would be to allow these states to be incubators in a test to determine if more progressive cannabis policy was a good idea for the entire country.
By and large, states that have legalized cannabis on some level have seen overwhelming success. Tax revenue has been skyrocketing in states like Oregon, Washington, and Colorado, and studies have shown that legalization has not led to an increase in crime or use of hard drugs. According to a Washington Post report, opiate addiction and abuse is down in Colorado as a result of people with chronic pain having access to cannabis.
But this doesn’t matter, apparently, to Jeff Sessions, a long-time drug warrior and irrational opponent of cannabis legalization. Disregarding the typical conservative love affair with so-called “states rights,” Sessions has decided that he and he alone should be charged with deciding whether adults throughout the nation should be allowed to legally use cannabis for medical or recreational purposes. Instead, Sessions is looking to ramp up the drug war, with its excessive spending and Draconian laws that routinely send non-violent offenders to prison.
Whether this is tied to Sessions’ support for and cronyist relationship with the private prison industry, one can merely speculate. But it doesn’t take a wide stretch of the imagination to see how the private prison industry would benefit from a ramping up of the federal war against cannabis. According to NBC News, Sessions shortly into his term as head of the Justice Department rescinded an Obama-era directive to phase out the use of private prisons. This move was celebrated by the private prison industry, which will continue to benefit from regressive federal cannabis policy.
But talk of “states rights” and whether the federal war on cannabis is effective in curbing “drug use” glosses over one major and important point. That point being that prohibition of cannabis is an egregious violation of our basic human rights. According to CNN, Jeff Sessions in a written statement has characterized his move as a “return to the rule of law,” as though these “laws” are some immutable fact of nature that we as a society should always adhere to.
They are not. The laws are garbage. For what can be more basic and essential of a human right than the ability, free from government interference, for people to use a plant to enhance their lives? And whether that usage is to alleviate severe pain or simply to relax and listen to some music is not something the government should get to decide. It is the most elemental and obvious fact of our existence that we as beings on this planet should be able to make use of a resource like cannabis to improve our lives. The opinion of people like Jeff Sessions is and will always be irrelevant.