Both U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Dr. Sanjay Gupta made headlines last week by officially changing their positions on drugs. Holder told the American Bar Association in San Francisco that he wants to cut down federal mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders, saying excessive incarceration has been "ineffective and unsustainable" and "too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long." Gupta, in an about-face on CNN, said there is "no scientific basis" that marijuana has no medical benefits, and we've "been terribly and systematically misled in this country [on marijuana] for some time." Good for them. But as heartening as their new opinions are, I wonder why they've been so slow and unresponsive on this issue for so long. Wait a minute... Oh my God! Holder and Gupta must totally be stoned!
It's pretty amazing how behind these guys are. While Holder rightfully asked if the "so-called 'War on Drugs'" has been truly effective, surely he must realize that many states have already decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana to curb their surging prison populations (predominantly made up of minorities) as well as the rising costs of prosecuting and incarcerating these perpetrators. At the federal level, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have already come together to introduce legislation on mandatory minimums in March, and the bill will likely get more support when Congress returns in the fall. Another bipartisan bill sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) was introduced this month, making the executive branch pretty late to legislative branch's totally sweet party.
Meanwhile, Gupta said he was "misled" by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on marijuana, as it currently classifies pot as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has no medical value and is as harmful as PCP and heroin. Really, doctor? You were misled by the government? Well, welcome to the club, bro. Have you not noticed the science put forth for years from groups like the National Organization for Reforming Marijuana Laws (NORML) or the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP)? Have you not noticed all the states that have legalized medical marijuana since 1996? Illinois became the 20th state to legalize medical marijuana this summer, and several more states, including my sweet, sweet home of Ohio, will likely have it on the ballot next year. Gupta now knows there are even strains of marijuana that help sick children, and New Jersey could have fully legalized that this week as well, if Chris Christie wasn't so slow and unresponsive on the issue. Wait a minute... Oh my God! Chris Christie must totally be stoned!
As many news outlets have noted, Holder and Gupta's new opinions represent a turning tide of public opinion on the drug war and marijuana in America. The question is: will it make a difference? The debates on medical marijuana and the War on Drugs are far from over, and as plenty of damage has already been done to non-violent criminals, their families and communities for years, this is only a small step in the right direction. Groups like NORML and MPP -- as well as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) - have been fighting for these kind of reforms for years without much luck until now. It must be truly frustrating for pro-marijuana activists to talk for so long without having the people they are talking to be actually listening... Oh wait, no. They are probably used to that.
I for one will remain optimistic on where we are headed. This week New York City Comptroller John Liu said he wants marijuana legalized and I think it's certainly possible now for Congress to pass the mandatory minimum reforms and for the Department of Justice to follow suit. I think many more states will legalize medical marijuana and -- like Colorado and Washington -- legalize its use entirely, and then the Department of Justice can stop their senseless raids of state-sanctioned dispensaries. Furthermore, to follow Dr. Gupta's advice, the DEA will reschedule marijuana out of Schedule I, and other drugs can then be dealt with on a health and regulation level, not a prohibition and legal level. Then, we will finally see a brighter future, where people will join together arm in arm and realize that we are all one. Wait a minute... Oh my God! I must totally be stoned!