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Sessions, Pot and the Democratic Party on Drugs

Why does the political Right hate marijuana? There are two main reasons for the hate and loathing of pot on the Right. First, its use was associated with bohemians, jazz musicians, and rockers. The Beat Generation of writers and poets and their followers were the antithesis of the staid decade of the 1950s and the Republicans would like to put us all squarely back in the 50s. And then there was the issue of race. When jazz, art, and literature flourished during the Harlem Renaissance, the Right had yet another target (“Marijuana Prohibition Was Racist From The Start. Not Much Has Changed,” The Huffington Post, January, 25, 2014).

In the 1960s, Left political movements burst onto the scene and transformed the U.S. in ways in which the political Right is still trying to roll back. Slander and libel against the political Left continue into the present with the threatened attack on recreational pot by the Trump administration (“Spicer: Trump Supports States’ Right to Discriminate Against Trans Kids but Not to Legalize Pot,” Slate, February 23, 2017).

The most famous example of a draconian jail sentence for giving away a small amount of marijuana was highlighted during The Who’s performance at Woodstock in 1969. The late political activist Abbie Hoffman was chased off of the stage when Hoffman seized the microphone from the rock group and launched into an abruptly truncated monologue about John Sinclair’s 10-year sentence for giving two joints to an undercover narcotics agent. Prison sentences in some cases for pot possession and pot distribution were much, much higher with draconian sentencing laws that sent nonviolent drug offenders to prison.

Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions’ famous statement about the Ku Klux Klan may give many pause who believed that the federal government was moving in the right direction in regard to recreational pot use. Sessions said, according to a lawyer who knew Sessions, that he thought that the KKK was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.”  In an April 2016 Senate hearing, then Senator Sessions said that the government needed to send a message that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” (“Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s new attorney general, said the Ku Klux Klan ‘was OK until I found out they smoke pot,’” The Independent, November 18, 2016).

The great train derailment that is the Democratic Party took place on February 25, 2017, in Atlanta, Georgia. Perhaps the Democratic National Committee was either on pot, or needed to be. In a direct rebuke of the entire election cycle of 2016, the Democrats elected establishment figure Thomas Perez as their chairman, while rejecting Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the favorite of the insurgent Democrats (“Democrats Elect Thomas Perez, Establishment Favorite, as Party Chairman,” New York Times, February 25, 2017).

Once again, the Democrats have proven that they cannot get out of their own way. Soon after the defeat of the insurgency within the party, the spinoff group of the Sanders’ 2016 campaign, Our Revolution, sent out an email to its members, the thrust of which was that the battle within the Democratic Party would never be easy and that we need to keep on working for change… please send along a contribution.

The next day, Sunday, on MSNBC, Bernie Sanders made it clear that his former campaign would not be handing over its email list of donors as quickly as the Democratic National Committee may have wanted. The neoliberal legacy of both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama has had its effect. The disaffected among the general electorate voted to move the government so far to the right that it is unrecognizable as anything close to a republican form of democracy. Staying in the streets may be the only thing separating us from the fanatic extremism of the far Right, and the streets are not a guarantee against complete tyranny.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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