We have long known that US Attorney General Jeff Sessions does not approve of marijuana, not to mention any drug. (His office refuses to answer the question of whether he drinks alcohol.) He has famously said that “good people” don’t use marijuana. On January 4, he implicitly threatened states that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use. He rescinded an Obama-era memo, issued in 2013, which had signaled considerable leeway for states even though marijuana is illegal under federal law. His timing was ironic. He issued his memo the day before the Vermont House of Representatives was scheduled to vote to legalize marijuana through legislative action. Indeed, they did so on January 5th, and the Vermont Senate did the same a week later. Apparently, as one of my advocacy colleagues said, “They did not get the memo.” Other states where legalization has been recently approved by ballot initiative—most notably Massachusetts and Maine—seem for the most part undeterred by the Sessions memo. In Colorado, one of the first two such states (Washington was the other) to legalize marijuana in 2012, the response has verged upon anger. US Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) feels betrayed. During Mr. Sessions’ confirmation hearing as attorney general, Sen. Gardner asked for and received assurances that no such action would be taken. There are two reasons why I think we should be not only bemused but angry at what the Attorney General has done. The first is that we have long passed the point of wondering whether cannabis as medicine has value. It clearly does. It is now a reality in 29 states containing over 60% of the U.S. population. Respected medical journals document that marijuana offers relief for patients with cancer and multiple sclerosis and severe chronic pain. An article entitled, “Talking About Marijuana—In Church” in the January 3 issue of The Christian Century notes that marijuana is important to older folks because “it appears to be particularly helpful in coping with the myriad side effects of other drugs.” Are these not “good people”? It is not clear yet what the consequences of the Sessions memo will be, but it may make life more difficult for the providers of medical marijuana. For this, he should be condemned. (We provide the opportunity to TAKE ACTION.) The second reason for anger starts with the fact that we are in the midst of a national opioid health crisis. Mr. Sessions should use the resources of his office to prosecute those in the medical community who have helped to create and continued to fuel this epidemic. When it comes to medical marijuana, he should recognize the promise of marijuana as reducing the need for opioids. Attorney General Jeff Sessions by all accounts likes his job because it enables him to pursue “law and order” policies of the 1980s which he is now in a position to impose. When it comes to marijuana, he is wrong.
Three nationally prominent physicians have just spoken out in a prestigious journal in support of marijuana legalization. The November issue of the American Journal of Public Health features an article by Dr. H. Westley Clark, Dr. Joyce Elders, and Dr. David Nathan titled “The Case for Marijuana Legalization.” Dr. Clark has a distinguished record as the Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment SAMSHA for 16 years. He is currently Dean’s Executive Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at Santa Clara University. Dr. Elders is well known as the former Surgeon General under President William Clinton; she is now professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Dr. Nathan is a psychiatrist in Princeton, New Jersey and serves as the Director of Continuing Medical Education for the Princeton HealthCare System (PHCS). In 2015 he joined with colleagues to found Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR), described in the article as “the first and only national physicians organization dedicated to the legalization and regulation of the adult use of cannabis.” “The unjust prohibition of marijuana has done more damage to public health than has marijuana itself,” according to these three experts. They point to the high number of marijuana arrests—about 575,000 every year in the United States; the disproportionate impact of marijuana laws on African Americans; and the fact that the implementation of current marijuana laws leads to increased poverty, itself a public health issue. The authors argue that prohibition has failed: “over 22,000 million Americans use cannabis each month.” They note that “both marijuana and alcohol can adversely affect brain development in minors.” But they point out that prohibition has not prevented underage use; in fact, it misleads by sending a message that marijuana is dangerous for everyone, which youth “know is not true.” The authors believe that decriminalization (treating low-level marijuana possession as a civil offense, comparable to a traffic ticket), is a welcome step. Decriminalization does not, however, end the need for regulation, which enables individuals to know what they are using, protects against a contaminated product, and can constrain bad marketing practices, such as targeting youth. The article offers a set of recommendations about how marijuana should be legalized, including government oversight of production, testing, distribution, and sales, rigorous standards of labeling, clear information about amount and content of what is being consumed; and other measures. Here is the full text of the article.
It was evident before he was appointed Attorney General that Jefferson Sessions’ drug policies are ill-informed and wrong. It took watching his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last Tuesday to understand just how this is the case. I had a “eureka” moment. He closed his statement with a self-serving peroration that had no relation to why he had been called before the Committee: “… Just last week, it was reported that overdose deaths in this country are rising faster than ever recorded. The murder rate is up over 10 percent—the largest increase since 1968. Together, we are telling the gangs, the cartels, the fraudsters, and the terrorists—we are coming after you. Every one of our citizens, no matter who they are or where they live, has the right to be safe in their homes and communities.”
It is good news that Connecticut may become the first state to legalize marijuana through the action of state legislators rather than by ballot initiative. On the morning of March 7, a new state coalition– Regulate Connecticut — held a press conference to launch a campaign to tax and regulate marijuana there. The Public Health Committee of the Connecticut House then held over 14 hours of hearings. In the press conference, I made the case that legalizing marijuana can, and should, be made on religious, not just secular grounds. This is not immediately obvious. It requires a closer look.
Rev. Alan Jones, Pastor of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, Sacramento and President of the California Council of Churches, joined by five clergy colleagues (video below) calls for approval of California’s Proposition 64 to tax and regulate marijuana. Prop 64 passed with a 56% “Yes” vote. Transcript of Rev. Dr. Alan Jones statement: I believe that the basis of any Christian moral decision is being honest, so you start from the position of telling the truth about what’s going on. What’s going on is that people across California are using marijuana. I am told that on any street you can purchase marijuana. It’s illegal, but you can purchase it. There’s no law enforcement for it. This is a dishonest position. Proposition 64 calls us into an honest engagement with marijuana. You know, we Methodists used to be famous for the fact that we were required not to consume alcohol. Booze was a real problem and we had to say “no.” We’ve evolved over the years, and the United Methodist Social Principles now say concerning alcohol that” judicious use with deliberate and intentional restraint with Scripture as our guide” is the way to proceed. I would advise everybody as a person of faith looking at Prop 64 to consider “judicious use with deliberate and intentional restraint with Scripture as our guide.” And look primarily at the teaching of Jesus. Jesus when asked what the bottom line is, said,” Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.” And if you do that you, have to find your way into Prop 64. So let’s vote to support Prop 64.