Last week we reported on the story of President Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinding a marijuana memo from the Obama administration that established a policy of refraining from federal interference with state laws concerning marijuana use. Once the announcement hit the internet, people from all sides of the argument began chiming in with either praise for the “rule of law” stance of this administration, or adamant opposition of this new policy that essentially reignites the “war on weed” in America.
This announcement came only days after the state of California had officially enacted the legalization of recreational marijuana. Needless to say, the conversation has not yet been dismissed. One voice came from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
American Civil Liberties Union VS Sessions
For some background, the American Civil Liberties Union is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization with a stated mission:
“to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.”
The ACLU has over one million members and works through litigation and lobbying while providing legal assistance in cases when it considers civil liberties to be at risk.
In response to the news of Jeff Sessions rescinding the Obama-era policy for a hands-off approach to legal marijuana states, the deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Jesselyn McCurdy stated:
“Criminalizing marijuana may be a priority for Attorney General Sessions—who has spent decades using bad science to push his own regressive agenda—but it is not a priority for the American people, 52 percent of whom support legalization. Rescinding this guidance is yet another example of how this administration’s ‘law and order’ philosophy is deeply out of touch with most Americans. With today’s decision, the Department of Justice is essentially telling at least six states and the District of Columbia that they are not entitled to govern as they see fit when it comes to drug policy. For politicians who purport to believe in ‘small government’ and states’ rights, this is a wildly incongruous move.”
Later on in the statement, McCurdy concludes,
“The War on Marijuana, like the War on Drugs, has failed by almost every measure—with the exception of successfully destroying communities of color. Marijuana criminalization negatively impacts public housing and student financial aid eligibility, employment opportunities, child custody decisions, and immigration status. Today’s decision furthers entrenches the country in racially biased, fiscally irresponsible, and morally wrong drug policy—and the ACLU will continue to fight it.”
And the ACLU is most definitely not alone in this mindset. Both Democrats and Republicans are openly criticizing this shift, with some like Senator Cory Gardner promising to oppose it at every opportunity.
Compassion Not Punishment
The backlash from this most recent decision from Jeff Sessions has come from all directions. Pretty much every publication and news outlet has covered this controversial move. As of now, there is no definitive answer as to how this policy change will impact those states where medical marijuana use is legal, or how it will impact the recreational marijuana industry.
But despite the fact that marijuana has become increasingly supported for medicinal use across the country, with many advocating for recreational use as well, the reality remains that drugs can still be abused, regardless of their legal status.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), marijuana use can lead to an individual developing problems known as marijuana use disorder. Data from recent studies research suggests:
- 30% of those who use marijuana may have some degree of marijuana use disorder
- Use of marijuana before age 18 makes someone 4-7 times more likely to develop marijuana use disorder
The NIDA also states that marijuana dependence occurs when the brain adapts to large amounts of the drug by reducing production of and sensitivity to its own endocannabinoid neurotransmitters. In 2015:
- About 4.0 million people in the United States met the diagnostic criteria for a marijuana use disorder
- Only 138,000 voluntarily sought treatment for their marijuana use
So while some may still experience difficulties due to their use of marijuana, the focus should still remain on support and assistance through compassionate care and treatment, not punishment. Regardless of whether you support the decision of the attorney general, or if you stand with the American Civil Liberties Union and other legalization advocates, you can support compassionate and comprehensive treatment for those who do struggle with substance use disorder.