Half A Crime

There was once a time when the rarified air of federal court wasn’t commonly befouled with the banal stench of defendants accused of drug crime. But the war on drugs in the 1970s changed that, and a defendant might well find himself one of the unfortunates who faced penalties magnitudes harsher than state judges would mete out for no better reason than “it’s Tuesday.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration was created in 1973. Conspiracy became the darling of federal prosecutors, especially when they needed no overt act for drugs as opposed to any other conspiracy. Forfeiture was beloved by Americans who wanted to take the profit out of crime. Heady times.

But Americans began to tire of the War on Drugs, both because it was expensive and we were losing it. Badly. And in time, people came to doubt that Reefer Madness was a documentary, and voted in states to legalize marijuana, first as medicinal and later as recreational. As it turned out, the horrors drug warriors predicted failed to happen. In fact, things turned out surprisingly well, generating revenues for states, providing jobs, reducing illegal sales.

One thing, however, did not happen. Pot remained not only a federal offense, but a Schedule I drug. For all the epiphanies of the Obama administration, removing it from Schedule I was not among them. There was the Cole Memo, which shifted federal criminal priorities away from states where marijuana was legalized, but like almost all Obama-era “reforms,” it was as easily undone as done. as it lacked rule of law.

According to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, there won’t be much time left to enjoy a Rocky Mountain High.

The White House said Thursday it expects law enforcement agents to enforce federal marijuana laws when they come into conflict with states where recreational use of the drug is permitted.I

“I do believe you will see greater enforcement of it,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said regarding federal drug laws, which still list marijuana as an illegal substance.

There will be some who view the Trump administration’s return to strict enforcement as a return to law and order after his predecessor’s radicalization of traditional values and circumvention of governmental processes, such as the misperceived immigration policy appears to the unwary. But the two are not equivalents for, among many reasons, the fact that states that have legalized marijuana did so after popular referendum. This was the will of the people, not a pen and a phone.

As Mike Riggs points out, that makes a difference.

As Jacob Sullum has already reported, Quinnipiac released poll results yesterday showing that Americans overwhelmingly oppose federal interference in states where marijuana is legal. If raids were to resume, does that widely held sentiment translate into the phone-line-jamming outcry that nearly derailed Betsy DeVos’ nomination? Maybe not nationally, but you can bet residents and Congressional delegations from marijuana states would make lots of noise. (Marijuana business owners are already expressing displeasure.)

Not just people, but their elected representatives as well.

Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) told Bloomberg News yesterday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions told him before being confirmed that going after his state’s marijuana industry is “not a priority of the Trump administration.”

And why are such otherwise nice, normal law abiding folks, and official political types, suddenly weed’s best buds?

Speaking of Colorado: The state just wrapped up its third year of collecting taxes and fees on recreational pot.According to tax data, the combined state revenue from Colorado’s marijuana industry has set a new record each year since implementation: $52.5 million in FY 2014-2015, $85 million in ’15-’16, $127 million in ’16-’17. While those figures include a 2.9 percent medical marijuana tax, the bulk of the money comes from a 10 percent sales and 15 percent excise tax on retail (read: recreational) pot.

Retail pot has also created 18,000 jobs in Colorado alone. Denver’s industrial real estate market is thriving. Pueblo County has a pot-funded college scholarship program. “It is a very real industry sector in these states now,” Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, tells me. “And there’s no evidence of buyer’s remorse on the part of voters.” (Polling in Colorado confirms.)

This is similarly the case in Washington State. In other words, they like their pot whether they smoke it, eat it, or live off its generous revenue stream. What’s lawful in these states is unlawful in this nation.

To some, this seems to conflict with the state’s rights approach of conservatives, used as a talking point when AG Sessions reversed the transgender school guidance. But for anyone paying attention, Trump’s lack of nuanced grasp of anything involving law, Constitution or governance was apparent.

And still he was elected. His actions then since reflect his steamroller approach to creating the appearance of keeping his promises, even if done at a level so shallow and ineffectively as to make all but his most ignorant supporters cringe. Unfortunately, the fact that laws remain on the books to enable him to take these actions, because even our “smart” presidents lacked the will to engage in serious reform of laws we concluded were poorly conceived.

One might have hoped at the time of his election that Trump would have the good sense to surround himself with people more knowledgeable, more capable of nuanced understanding of issues and execution of government, who would guide him to make reasonably intelligent choices. Instead, he’s got Steve Bannon. He’s got Jeff Sessions, whose utterances as senator went out of fashion thirty years ago when the rest of the legal community realized they were nonsensical.

Trump rode the false claims of a crime epidemic, a war on cops, because fear sells better than thinking. But when it comes to legalized pot, particularly in states Trump won, people expected him not to be quite this clueless, this superficial, in his grasp of what people want and what they don’t. While many of his supporters applaud the mindless steamroller, because they too find thinking way too hard and painful, going after their lawful weed may be a step too far to suffer.

The issues surrounding immigration may be too complex for people to grasp, and their visceral hatred of aliens may color their willingness to think hard enough about it to realize the undue simplicity of their support. But pot is a far easier issue to grasp, and one that may be much closer to their personal interests.

There is nothing particularly surprising that Trump is approaching his job as a mindless disrupter, indiscriminately destroying everything in his path. If nothing else can be taken away from his administration, it’s that the mindless ignorance of the common man isn’t the antidote to the sophisticated genius of the socially just.


3 thoughts on “Half A Crime

  1. Dragoness Eclectic

    And why are such otherwise nice, normal law abiding folks, and official political types, suddenly weed’s best buds?

    I see what you did there.

  2. Ahaz

    One of major complaints with the Obama Administration. Too many half measures to a problem surrounding criminal justice reform and drug policy. Why his department did not reclassify marijuana astounds me. Now we have a administration that is enamoured with feeding the prison industrial complex. Insanity.

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