Congress must start drawing down the misguided War on Drugs
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Pushback against the government’s overlong, misguided fight against marijuana has finally reached a tipping point. Poll after poll shows that the majority of Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, support decriminalizing, rescheduling, or downright legalizing marijuana. Issue-driven voters have pushed for medical marijuana laws within their states; it is now legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia. Across America, support for doctor-prescribed medical marijuana is astronomical — over 90 percent, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll. 

Unfortunately, Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsDepartment of Justice right to go after Hezbollah Sessions defends media following disappearance of Saudi journalist Trump goes on 12-tweet Twitter tirade MORE seems to have missed the memo — and in the case of the Cole Memo, he’s outright destroyed it.

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In 2013, then-Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole issued a memo to all U.S. attorneys, directing prosecutors not to focus their energies on individual marijuana users, but on more dangerous drug-related crime. The “Cole Memo,” as it is called, prioritizes cracking down on the distribution of marijuana to minors, preventing drugged driving, limiting drug cartels’ influence in the marijuana sphere, preventing marijuana from being grown on public lands — in other words, serious crime. With a finite number of resources, including law enforcement officers, it’s sensible policy.

Unfortunately, it’s also terrible governance. We are a nation of laws, not department-wide memos. We shouldn’t tell prosecutors to ‘pick and choose’ what laws to uphold. When Federal law conflicts with state laws and the will of the American people, it’s time to change the laws, not circulate edicts. Now that Jeff Sessions has rescinded the Cole Memorandum, it looks like he is gearing up to resume hostilities in the War on Drugs. It’s time for Congress to moderate a ceasefire, and change the law.

One Senate appropriations bill includes language that prevents the Department of Justice from prosecuting state-legal cannabis businesses. We must ensure this language is protected in any final spending bill, and in any short-term funding package we pass. 

We must protect doctors and patients, many of whom have found relief with medical marijuana where other treatments have failed. Medical marijuana has a proven record of success in treating chemotherapy-induced nausea, juvenile epilepsy, and other conditions. Recent research indicates that it has great potential as a treatment for PTSD, too — with far fewer side effects than the “combat cocktail” of opioids and antidepressants. 

The legal cannabis industry is a thriving sector of our economy, worth approximately 7 billion dollars in 2016, and employing tens of thousands of people. Some analysts believe it will be worth over 50 billion dollars within a decade. By 2020, the cannabis industry may generate more new jobs than the entire manufacturing sector. This booming growth is staggering by any means, and doubly so in light of the punitive restrictions placed on marijuana-related businesses. Consider Section 280E of the tax code, which prohibits cannabis business from taking any tax deductions, including wages and office space. Or consider that cannabis-related businesses do not have the same access to banks and capital as other businesses. It’s time for Congress to protect patients, encourage business growth, respect the laws of individual states, and start drawing down the misguided War on Drugs.

I will soon introduce the Medical Marijuana Research Act, making it easier for researchers to study marijuana’s medicinal properties. Last year, I introduced legislation to reschedule cannabis as a Schedule III substance. For it to be in Schedule I, the same status as heroin and LSD, is absurd.

Attorney General Sessions’ decision to rescind the Cole Memo was met with widespread bipartisan outrage, including mine. Maybe, though, it could be the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back, and will inspire common-sense reform of our drug laws. I hope so — it’s long overdue.