They may have done it quietly, but last week Congress put another nail in the coffin of the failed drug war. Hidden inside a mammoth 1,603 page, 1.1 trillion dollar budgetary spending bill for 2016 was an earmarked section lifting the federal ban on medical marijuana. This measure, as well as the entire bill, was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Friday.
The measure moves policy creation and implementation responsibilities regarding medical marijuana from the hands of the federal government to the states. The Department of Justice is now legally barred from involvement in state medical marijuana policy, including taxation and regulation. For a long time, this was not the case in states with legalized medical marijuana, leading to raids and hundreds of arrests of growers, doctors, and dispensaries.
The amendment was sponsored by Democratic Reps Dana Rohrbacher and Sam Farr. It passed last year on a temporary basis, and was approved over the summer by the House with 242 votes to 186. The Senate Appropriations Committee subsequently passed the exact same amendment by a vote of 21 to 9. This separate amendment was sponsored by Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski.
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Congress’s long history of harmful drug policies is finally being taken into account. According to Michael Collins, Deputy Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance:
“For decades Congress has been responsible for passing disastrous drug laws. It’s encouraging to see them starting to roll back the war on drugs by allowing states to set their own medical marijuana policies.”
As of June 2015, 48% of all federal inmates were serving time due to drug related offenses. The war on drugs costs the U.S. $51 billion every year, while treating drug users rather than imprisoning them costs $20,000 less per person. Demonizing and imprisoning addicts, rather than treating them with compassion, has benefitted the prison industry at the expense of millions of lives.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders often cites the fact that, as a result of the war on drugs, a black male baby has a one-in-three chance of being incarcerated during his life. As a direct result of these policies, 34% of those arrested and 45% of the people in state prison for drug offenses are black Americans, despite black Americans only being 12% of the nation’s drug users.
While the federal ban on medical marijuana being lifted is an important step toward the end of the war on drugs, a lot of the damaged caused by these failed policies cannot be undone.
Featured image via Flickr