On March 15, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, while addressing a law enforcement conference in Richmond, Va., said: “I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use, but too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store, and I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana—so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful.”
Yes, the attorney general of the United States just said marijuana is “only slightly less awful” than heroin.
This isn’t a question of being “unfashionable,” but of the AG being factually wrong about the effects of two very different drugs. While some cannabis industry and advocacy groups have forced a smile and tried to paint a green-tinted picture of states’ rights, Trump likes medical cannabis, it’ll all be OK, yadda yadda yadda, how can we not see a difficult future ahead for cannabis when America’s top cop is so glaringly ignorant in his crusade against it?
“With over 600,000 arrests a year, the only thing life-wrecking about marijuana is its prohibition,” said Erik Altieri, NORML’s executive director, in a statement the day of Sessions’ speech.
Sessions spoke with reporters after his speech in Richmond.
“I think medical marijuana has been hyped, maybe too much,” Sessions said, according to various media sources. “Dosages can be constructed in a way that might be beneficial, I acknowledge that, but if you smoke marijuana, for example, where you have no idea how much THC you’re getting, it’s probably not a good way to administer a medicinal amount. So forgive me if I’m a bit dubious about that.”
Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, countered Sessions’ remarks in a statement issued the same day.
“Statements like these from the Attorney General are factually inaccurate,” Sherer said. “In January, the National Academies of Sciences, Medicine, and Engineering released a report that reviewed over 10,000 research articles, which states there is conclusive, moderate, and substantial evidence for benefits of cannabis in several conditions. Sessions needs to stop spreading unfounded, unscientific theories about medical marijuana and take the time to actually meet the millions of Americans that are benefitting from its use before making comments about it being over-hyped.”
President Trump said he was “100 percent” in favor of medical marijuana during the campaign. But White House press secretary Sean Spicer recently clarified that the president sees a “big difference” between medical and recreational use.
As we’ve seen in the days since the inauguration, things are moving fast on all fronts in the Trump era. Those wishing to preserve and even further legalization must not be reactionary in their activism. There is too much at stake to take a wait-and-see position.
One productive way to be proactive in the defense and progress of legalization is to participate in and support the organizations that have been fighting this battle for decades—and will be on the front lines in the coming years.
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
Keith Stroup was smoking with Ralph Nader’s legal team in 1970 when someone suggested he ask Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Foundation for a grant to fund his fledgling pro-pot organization. Hefner approved a grant of $5,000, and NORML was born. By the mid-1970s, Hef was donating $100,000 a year to NORML. It was this support that helped make NORML the premier pro-pot organization.
NORML now boasts 135 chapters and a network of more than 500 lawyers. With legalization becoming more of a reality, NORML has edited its mission to “move public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and to serve as an advocate for consumers to assure they have access to high quality marijuana that is safe, convenient and affordable.”
Americans for Safe Access
The ASA is a medical marijuana advocacy group founded in 2002 by medi-pot patient Steph Sherer. The mission is “to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use and research.”
ASA is the largest national member-based organization of medical professionals, patients and scientists promoting medical use and research, with more than 100,000 active members in all 50 states.
Brownie Mary Democratic Club of Riverside County
If you’re looking for a way to get involved locally, stay informed on the latest developments, and meet like-minded individuals, check out the Brownie Mary Democratic Club of Riverside County. Founded by activist Lanny Swerdlow, it is believed to be the first political-party-affiliated cannabis advocacy group in California. It is named for Mary Jane Rathbun, who got the nickname “Brownie Mary” for illegally baking and distributing cannabis brownies to AIDS patients while volunteering at San Francisco General Hospital.
Meetings are held the first Saturday of every month at 11:30 a.m. at Crystal Fantasy, 268 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs.
Marijuana Policy Project
Founded in 1995, the MPP deals with lobbying and ballot initiatives. The MPP PAC, founded in 2003, donates to key congressional candidates. The mission is to affect federal law, to allow states enact to their own marijuana policies without federal interference, and to regulate marijuana like alcohol nationwide. In terms of budget, members and staff, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest national organization working specifically on marijuana policy reform.
Drug Policy Alliance
The DPA takes an active role in the legislative process, and its goals include rolling back the excessive laws of the War on Drugs, blocking harmful initiatives, and pushing for sensible drug-policy reforms.
Considering the mixed (or worse) signals we’re getting from the current administration, it is clear that the fight for legalization and acceptance is far from over. We must not rest on recent victories. We must remain vigilant, and we must let our representatives know that we support the legalization of cannabis. When the will of the people is ignored in favor of a self-righteous crusade with no base in science or democracy, we must resist. Joining, supporting, and participating in these organizations shows that we are unified—and that we are not going anywhere.