Our right to drugs

Nevada is now a recreational marijuana state. This month Vermont became the first state to pass a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession through the legislative rather than the ballot process. More will follow.

There are only three states—Idaho, Ohio and Kansas—that do not allow some legal consumption of cannabis or a non psychoactive derivative for medical or recreational purposes. The disappointing Gov. Butch Otter of Idaho recently vetoed legislation allowing access to non-psychoactive medicinal marijuana like CBD.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions knows there is now a pro-marijuana caucus in Congress and that state governors and legislatures will resist federal attacks on cannabis.

Sessions has turned to the demonization of the “hard” drugs like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and pharmaceuticals like hydrocodone and fentanyl. His argument is these drugs can lead to addiction and overdose deaths. Sessions’ solution is to instruct Justice Department prosecutors to vigorously charge under the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines that the Obama administration had waived for relatively low level dealers.

Illegal drugs are to Republicans what guns are to Democrats—alive, malignant entities that always enslave minds and destroy lives. “The epidemic of the scourge of illegal drugs” and “gun violence” are similar rhetorical terms that imply that guns and drugs are intrinsically evil and cannot be used responsibly.

People use illegal drugs to get better, get themselves “right,” end dis-ease. People use guns to protect themselves and their families. The state turns these innocent actions into illegal actions that justify state violence. Prohibition worsens the very problems it purports to solve, and the demand for more government police powers to solve new problems follows mindlessly in its wake.

Remarkably, Sessions admitted that drug dealers in black markets resort to violence to settle disputes because they have no legal recourse. But, like all prohibitionists, he simply cannot conceive that the alternative is not to ramp up the failed war on drugs, but rather legalization of all prohibited drugs. The end of alcohol prohibition demonstrated that legalization ends violent gang turf wars for anyone who is not a modern-day Carrie Nation like Sessions.

The controls on guns are falling away because citizens convinced the judiciary to recognize the Second Amendment. The war on drugs is an end run around constitutional federalism through international treaties. Before the narcotics treaties were ratified, the states alone had the power to criminalize drug use. Because the people of the states now demand legal access to cannabis, federalism is being restored for that benign drug. But there is no large state demand for legal meth, heroin or cocaine. Fewer people use these drugs, and the fog of prohibitionist misinformation clouds common sense.

Studies show that in marijuana-friendly states, overdoses due to opioid use have declined by about 25 percent. The surging domestic production of cannabis at the state level has also led to a similar reduction in cannabis smuggling, without the need for a wall. Sessions is immune to these harm reduction arguments. He calls medical marijuana overrated and says he is not aware of any positive outcomes resulting from drug legalization. When told that marijuana can substitute effectively in pain reduction therapy for opioids, he dismisses the idea by calling cannabis only slightly less harmful than heroin.

The fiscal and human cost of the war on drugs should give all conservatives pause. Congress won’t decriminalize drug sale and use unless the states and the people pressure them to. Only if we, the people, reject the idea that government should use police violence to keep us safe, rather than free, will that pressure materialize.