Attorney General Jeff Sessions rattled the prohibitionist sword in a recent letter to Washington and other legal marijuana states. But Sessions was wrong on the facts and the politics of the legalization experiment.
U .S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is an old school drug warrior, so it came as no surprise that his Department of Justice recently sent Washington and other states with legalized marijuana letters with a fusillade of bullet points on the dangers of legal weed.
What is surprising, however, is how misleading and cherry-picked his data was. Sessions wrongly portrayed Washington’s marijuana experiment as a circus, with exploding marijuana-extraction labs and stoned teens weaving across the roadway.
The experiment is a work in progress, but Sessions’ letter to Gov. Jay Inslee warrants a rebuttal — and not just because of bad data.
It missed the fundamental point made by voters in Washington and Colorado in the historic 2012 election. It has subsequently been made in California, Oregon, Alaska, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine.
Legalization is spreading because it is a rational response to the failed policy of prohibition. Arresting and incarcerating marijuana users and growers doesn’t make them go away; it drives them underground. Prohibition had a vastly disproportionate impact on black men. Maintaining the ban was a drain on law-enforcement resources; a legalized, regulated market creates a tax source to pay for treatment and teen-prevention campaigns.
Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, in a letter to Sessions this week, rebutted his litany of problems, which included Washington-grown marijuana being found in 43 other states, an increase in stoned drivers and 17 marijuana labs exploding in 2014 alone.
As Inslee and Ferguson accurately note, that data was gathered before Washington’s first licensed and regulated marijuana store opened in 2015. Sessions’ data, in fact, comes from the prohibition era he apparently favors.
Since Washington began fully regulating marijuana, state inspectors have cracked down on state stores that sold to minors. They’ve required licensed growers track every ounce of legal weed.
And since those state-licensed stores opened, the annual state Healthy Youth Survey of Washington students found the number of current underage users is actually down among younger students, and virtually flat for high school seniors. All groups say it has become slightly harder to get.
That’s not to say legalization is without challenges, including the normalization of underage pot use. The answer is prevention education, which is paid for with some of the $730 million in state marijuana taxes and fees projected for the next two years.
In his letter, Sessions rattled the sword of prohibition, but did not say the feds were coming to end the legalization experiment. And for good reason. The feds don’t have the resources to take on a majority of the country.
Nearly one in five Americans now live in a state with legal recreational marijuana. Three out of five live in states with legal medical marijuana access. The numbers are growing. The prohibition era is done, whether Sessions wants to admit it or not.