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Politicians Are Finally Catching Up on Marijuana

Hashtoria, Astoria, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Usually I don’t look to sitcoms for wisdom, but the new season of One Day at a Time has a real gem (or many, actually, but here is one). The family lives in California, where marijuana is legal, both recreationally and medicinally. The mother catches the teenage son vaping, and he complains that she’s being too harsh on him because it’s legal now.

Her response? So is alcohol and so are cigarettes, and none of them are legal for you. And all three are bad for a teenager’s developing brain.

Our longstanding national policy of criminalizing marijuana at a federal level and in many states is often justified by calling marijuana a “gateway drug.”

But the other two so-called gateway drugs — tobacco and alcohol — were already legal. And none were legal for minors. So why is marijuana so uniquely bad it must be criminalized for adults?

You should not drive a car while high, but you also should not drive while drunk. Somehow we’ve managed to allow alcohol while restricting people from using it in ways that endanger others.

That much was true before. Here’s what is new: The field of Democratic presidential candidates in the 2020 race virtually all agree on this point. Legalize pot.

It’s not a bold position to take. The majority of Americans — even the majority of Republicans —  agree.

Several candidates support their views with justifications about criminal justice, noting that prohibition has filled America’s prisons with people often guilty of nothing worse than possession of cannabis.

Imagine spending time in prison for growing or owning a little bit of a plant. Other people are in there for murder, rape, and burglary, and you’re there for owning a few flower tops. That’s the reality for many in this country.

Think about the implications of that. We’re all paying to lock people up for a bit of weed. Their entire families suffer by having a loved one in prison. Children grow up without parents who are incarcerated because of pot. Meanwhile, we’ve actually enriched more dangerous drug cartels by providing a price support and eliminating competition.

It is a game changer to have almost the entire field of presidential candidates supporting legalizing marijuana.

Politicians are cowards. It’s now no longer brave or risky to advocate legalization. If you do, most of your voters will be on your side. And those who don’t? Well, who else are they going to vote for? Among Democratic primary voters virtually all of their choices are pro-legalization, so nobody will lose votes by taking this stance.

Even if Trump came around, it would be politically safe. He already knows his Democratic opponent will be for legalization, and the majority of Republicans are for it. What is there to lose?

It’s time to legalize marijuana. Americans have been far more harmed by arrests and imprisonments for pot than they ever have been by using pot itself.

Once it’s legal, we should look into next steps: conducting more research on medicinal uses of cannabis, expanding the industrial hemp industry, and commuting sentences of people who are behind bars for nothing more than non-violent marijuana possession.

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