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Friday, January 5, 2018


In the midst of all the crazy speeches, even crazier tweets, firings, tantrums, endless self promotion and possibly criminal behavior the first year of the Trump presidency has given us, some actual policy matters have emerged from the chaos.  And in many ways the policies are worse than the chaos.
Recently, the state of California voted to legalize marijuana for recreational usage; this was no big surprise, given that the whole country has been slowly but surely moving in this common sense direction for years.  There are now twenty nine states that have legalized pot for medicinal use, and six that have for general use.  California joining that list is a welcome addition given that it is the most populous state with the largest economy, making pot legalization a seemingly inevitable reality for most Americans.
During the campaign, candidate Donald Trump shrugged off marijuana legalization as a state's rights issue; sadly, that was just another lie.  His choice of Jeff Sessions for the position of Attorney General showed where his feelings really were on the matter.  Sessions, who was, we should remember, was disqualified for a judgeship back in the 1980's because of racist comments he made, is an old school fan of the war on drugs, that disastrous policy that helped America become the country with the highest prison population in the world.  Apparently, he doesn't think that's high enough, because just yesterday he wrote a memo to United States attorneys rescinding the Obama era policies of not actively pursuing marijuana convictions, and added that federal laws should “reflect Congress’s determination that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that marijuana activity is a serious crime.”  Sadly, this was an easy call for him, given that increased arrests will result in increased searches and arrests for poor, non white citizens more than anybody else (as the ACLU has noted, African Americans are no more likely to use marijuana, but around four times more likely to be arrested for it).  Also, of course, most of the states that have legalized recreational use are blue states.
This is not only terrible policy, it's also hypocritical: buried deep inside the recently passed tax bill is a cut on excise taxes on beer, which will benefit both small and big brewers.  As a recent New York Times article  pointed out, every year around 88,000 Americans die from alcohol related reasons.  The article also points out that since the year 2000 there has been a stunning fifty percent increase in the number of people going to emergency room because of heavy drinking.  Is this really the time for America to be giving tax subsidies to manufactures of a product that has no positive benefit, that instead results in the death of tens of thousands of Americans every year?  Considering all our tax dollars pay for those emergency rooms, shouldn't alcohol manufacturers pay more taxes to help fund them?
This gets even crazier when one considers that marijuana has directly resulted in exactly zero deaths in the entire history of its recreational usage.  Yes, it is literally impossible to overdose on pot (and believe me, growing up in San Francisco, I've met people who seem to be trying to!), and it is also not physically addictive, unlike alcohol.  So this is where our country has wound up, the same government that encourages a business that sells a drug that kills tens of thousands of Americans every year to increase its sales, wants to criminalize another business selling a drug that has never directly killed anyone.  Sadly, there is no common sense in these policies, but, fortunately, the public is on the right side of them, and inevitably there will come a change.  Unfortunately, it will come too late to spare the estimated half million people a year arrested on marijuana charges in this country.

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