Marijuana legalization: The new Reefer Madness
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Lawmakers are considering whether to tie the Justice Department’s hands by restricting their spending on enforcement in states that have violated federal law and passed medical marijuana initiatives.

While we should have compassion for the suffering — and promote increased research in this area — the proposed Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment is bad for public health and safety. In fact, such restrictions are not only a back-door gimmick to legalize marijuana at the federal level, they would benefit major criminal organizations seeking legal cover for drug trafficking.

No one wants to see people jailed for smoking marijuana, let alone someone suffering from a serious, life-threatening illness. But the proposed amendment would be a boon to drug cartels and other criminal organizations by hindering major investigations in medical marijuana states.


Drug cases are complicated, and as we have seen in states with legal marijuana, transnational criminal organizations often use the cover of legal marijuana to conduct other illegal activities.


While we don't want to see people being locked up or given criminal records for smoking pot, by hampering enforcement efforts in medical marijuana states we are putting the interests of illegal cartels and for-profit businesses ahead of public health safety.

Federal resources are already limited, which is why it is always bad policy to focus enforcement efforts on individual users, but by shutting out federal agencies from states altogether we give breathing room to gangs and criminal organizations that drive crime and violence in our communities.

This isn’t a hypothetical scenario. Officials in Colorado report that cartel activity has increased in states like Colorado following legalization. In that state, a grand jury just indicted 62 people and 12 businesses for their roles in a massive interstate drug trafficking ring pretending to grow marijuana for sick people. Just two weeks earlier, a former marijuana enforcement officer and pot entrepreneur were arrested for using state licenses for "legal" businesses to cover up black market pot shipments.

Regulators in the Colorado Department of Revenue were also implicated in helping a drug trafficking organization "get legal."

And it’s not just in Colorado: a leaked Oregon State Police report revealed that Oregon was producing significantly more marijuana than the state market could consume, 70 percent of the transactions were on the black market, and the counties with the highest numbers of medical marijuana program registrants also had the highest rates of diversion out of state.

This led the U.S. Attorney for Oregon to request a meeting with the Governor's office to understand what the state was doing —or not doing — to address these issues. 

Passing amendments like these simply repeal drug laws by a different name. And feigning states’ rights concerns is hardly an excuse. The reason the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) was passed into law is because the black market does not honor state lines.

In 2005, the Supreme Court examined this issue in Gonzales v. Raich and ruled 6 to 3 that federal law supersedes state law when it comes to enforcing drug statutes — even in states where marijuana is legal.  

So how do we give patients the help they need?  We should continue to urge more research and press the FDA to approve legitimate medicines derived from cannabis without legalizing marijuana. There’s no reason why we should limit access to safe and effective medicine, but the Justice Department is right to ask Congress for a full set of tools to investigate and prosecute an industry that would deceive its users, sell contaminated products, and then use its profits to lobby for the full legalization of marijuana.

Look closer, and you’ll see that pro-pot advocacy is all about money for the growing, powerful Big Marijuana industry.

Today, Big Pot is lobbying Congress, targeting the same users, using the same mass advertising techniques, and employing the same kinds of lobbyists as Big Tobacco. The question is whether we as a country are going to stand by in silence and watch them do it.

We still have the chance to stand up and push back against this multi-billion-dollar industry before we live to regret another public health tragedy.

Now is the time to stop and ask if we are sure we’re moving in the right direction on marijuana.

The Justice Department should be able to use all the tools in the shed to stop this public health and safety problem.

Kevin A. Sabet is the president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which advocates against marijuana legalization and also against harsh marijuana prison criminal sentencing. He worked in the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) for presidents Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonMaxwell accuser testifies the British socialite was present when Epstein abuse occurred Epstein pilot testifies Maxwell was 'number two' in operation Federal judge changes his mind about stepping down, eliminating vacancy for Biden to fill MORE, George W. Bush and Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThose on the front lines of climate change should be empowered to be central to its solution The Memo: Trump's justices look set to restrict abortion Minorities and women are leading the red wave MORE. Follow him on Twitter @KevinSabet

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