End the madness — recognize reefer reality

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Later this week, members of the House will debate a relatively inconspicuous appropriations amendment that seeks to remove a single word from the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill. Should a majority of members approve the amendment, it will be the most significant step that Congress has ever taken to end the failed and cruel policy of federal marijuana criminalization.

Known as the Blumenauer-McClintock amendment, this bipartisan language restricts the Department of Justice from using taxpayer dollars to interfere in the 11 states that have legalized the adult use of marijuana.

Since 2014, members of Congress have passed annual spending bills that have included a provision protecting those who engage in the state-sanctioned use and dispensing of medical cannabis from undue prosecution by the Department of Justice. The Blumenauer-McClintock amendment would expand those protections to also include activities specific to the production and sale of cannabis to adults.

The importance of this vote can not be overstated. This will mark the first major marijuana-related vote in the new Congress, and it will be the first time that this specific language has been considered by members of Congress since 2015 — when it fell just 16 votes short of passage.

Today, nearly one in four Americans reside in a jurisdiction where the adult use of cannabis is legal under state statute. It is time for Congress to acknowledge this reality and to expand existing federal protections in a manner that recognizes these state-sanctioned activities.

Why are these protections important? Because regulating cannabis at the state level works.

Specifically, adult use states have not experienced an increase in either crime or teen use. In fact, a recent study published in the journal Police Quarterly concluded: “Our models show no negative effects of legalization and, instead, indicate that crime clearance rates for at least some types of crime are increasing faster in states that legalized than in those that did not. … [T]he current evidence suggests that legalization produced some demonstrable and persistent benefit in clearance rates, benefits we believe are associated with the marijuana legalization proponents’ prediction that legalization would positively influence police performance.”

Neither Washington nor Colorado, the first two states to enact legalization in 2012, have seen an uptick in adolescent cannabis use. According to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics, “[T]he HYS (Washington Healthy Use Survey) shows statistically significant declines in (marijuana use) prevalence from 2010-2012 to 2014-2016 among both 8th graders (from 9.8 percent to 7.3 percent) and 10th graders (from 19.8 percent to 17.8 percent).

In Colorado, the Westword Newspaper recently reported “According to the 2017 data [provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey,] the most recent available, 19.6 percent of Colorado high school students currently use marijuana — a couple of ticks below the national average of 19.8 percent. Moreover, the latest Colorado numbers are well below the 21.2 percent registered in 2015, the year after recreational sales went into effect, and 22 percent circa the pre-legalization year of 2011. As for lifetime use of marijuana among Colorado high-schoolers, it fell to 35.5 percent, a little under the 35.6 percent national average. The Colorado figures from 2015 and 2011 were 38 percent and 39.5 percent, respectively.”

Ultimately, members of Congress must amend the federal Controlled Substances Act in a manner that reflects this new reefer reality. But until that time, members can take action to protect this growing number of legal states from undue federal interference by passing the Blumenauer-McClintock amendment,

Justin Strekal is the political director for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, where he serves as an advocate to end the federal prohibition of marijuana and to reform our nation’s marijuana laws. 

Tags civil rights Marijuana marijuana legislation weed

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