It has taken too long, but all signs seem to point to the decriminalization of marijuana at the federal level in the near future.
Just in the last two weeks, there has been news indicating a social and legislative desire to correct an issue that has plagued the country for decades and it may happen in the near future.
Though our current Attorney General Jeff Session has been a fierce opponent of marijuana decriminalization, just in the last 10 days, many positive signs have emerged.
On April 11, former Republican congressman John Boehner made a surprise announcement he was joining a cannabis firm as his views had evolved. Though he is no longer in Congress, his shift on the matter reflects something that has been taking place as better science and medical research has taken place.
Just two day later, Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., announced President Trump assured him he was willing to sign legislation that would protect the industry from federal interference on state marijuana laws.
This past week has also seen even bolder moves to accomplish the decriminalization, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., moved to fast-track a Senate bill that would allow hemp to be used as an agricultural product. On Thursday, an FDA advisory board made a recommendation to approve a cannabis-based medication for epilepsy. It could be the very first cannabis-derived prescription medicine available in the United States.
On Friday Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., officially introduced to end the federal criminalization of marijuana.
It’s important to keep in mind the introduction of any bill is no guarantee of anything, but it does suggest how the views surrounding marijuana are evolving and becoming less black-or-white.
It’s important to acknowledge that cannabis is not harmless. Though its health impact is not considered as detrimental as alcohol, tobacco or other non-schedule I drugs, when consumed at an early age, it can harm the development of the frontal lobe of the brain. That’s the part of the brain responsible for decision making and judgment and which doesn’t fully develop until adulthood.
Recognizing those challenges make it essential to regulate it as much or more heavily than alcohol and tobacco, but it should not result in sending people to prison based on outdated federal regulations.
Though marijuana has been labeled by the federal government as a schedule I drug for more than four decades, there is no scientific basis for its criminalization. Marijuana was provisionally placed on the list in 1971 until the science could be assessed. One year later, the Shafer Commission — which was appointed by former president Richard Nixon — found cannabis to be as safe as alcohol and recommended decriminalizing it.
Despite the evidence, then-Attorney General John Mitchell moved forward with placing cannabis as a schedule I substance — along with drugs that are deemed to have no medical use and a high potential for abuse, such as heroin. Despite mounting evidence of its potential medical benefits, cannabis has remained a banned controlled substance for more than 45 years.
Flawed laws have caused a lot of harm in that time frame. Just in 2015 more than 600,000 marijuana-related arrests were made in the United States.
It appears decriminalization of marijuana will happen either in the current or next administration. When it happens, one thing legislators should not forget is to integrate a mechanism to help those who’ve been victimized by a lack of evidence-based decision making by our federal government over nearly half a century.