Congress Deals Blow to Drug War; Lifts Ban on Medical Marijuana

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Congress quietly landed a solid blow against the failed drug war last week, because tucked away inside a budgetary spending bill there was an earmarked section lifting the federal ban on medical marijuana!

The quietly passed measure was part of the 1,603-page, 1.1 trillion dollar spending bill for 2016, which President Barack Obama signed into law on Friday evening.

The measure allows states to implement their own policies regarding medical marijuana, meaning the Department of Justice is now barred from interfering with state medical cannabis laws. For a long time, the federal government refused to respect the will of the voters in states with legalized medical marijuana, leading to raids and arrests of doctors, growers, and dispensaries.

“The renewal of this amendment should bring relief for medical marijuana patients and business owners,” said 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.”

The bill also included provisions that prevent the federal government from taxing and regulating marijuana.

The amendment, sponsored by Democrats Rep Dana Rohrabacher and Rep Sam Farr, was passed last year on a temporary basis, and approved over the summer by the House, with 242 votes to 186.  The Senate Appropriations Committee subsequently passed the same amendment sponsored by Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski, by a vote of 21 to 9.

As of June 2015, 48% of all federal inmates are imprisoned for drug related offenses. The war on drugs also costs the United States $51 billion per year.

The war on drugs also perpetuates systemic racism.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders often cites the fact that a black male baby born today has a one-in-three chance of being incarcerated during his lifetime, as well as the fact that blacks make up 12 percent of the nation’s drug users, yet represent 34 percent of those arrested for drug offenses, and 45 percent of those in state prison for such offenses as of 2005.

Sanders has been very outspoken on the issue, calling the war on drugs a failed policy that has served to increase unemployment, imprison nonviolent offenders, and unfairly target black Americans.

Instead of imprisoning drug users, we should be treating them. Treatment costs approximately $20,000 less than what we currently spend to incarcerate someone for one year.

While this is a major step that should be celebrated, we still have far to go in ending the unsuccessful war on drugs that has destroyed so many lives. The prohibition and treatment of addicts as criminals instead of those in need of help has been beneficial to no one except the booming prison industry.

Featured image via Flickr