A physician who once served at the U.S.’s top medical official is speaking out for the legalization of marijuana, saying that mere decriminalization is not good enough.
“The war on marijuana exacerbates poverty, which is strongly correlated with— among other problems—reduced access to health care. The unjust prohibition of marijuana has done more damage to public health than has marijuana itself,” Dr. Joycelyn Elders, who served as U.S. surgeon general during the Clinton administration, wrote in a new article in the November issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
But simply ending arrests and incarceration for cannabis possession doesn’t fully address the harms of prohibition, Elders says.
“Times are changing. In 2017, even physicians who oppose legalization generally believe that marijuana should be decriminalized, reducing penalties for users while keeping the drug illegal,” she wrote. “Although decriminalization is certainly a step in the right direction, [it is] an inadequate substitute for legalization and regulation for a number of reasons.”
Elders co-authored the new piece with Dr. David L. Nathan and H. Westley Clark, a former director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Together, they are members of the advocacy group Doctors for Cannabis Regulation.
“Decriminalization does not empower the government to regulate product labeling and purity, which leaves marijuana vulnerable to contamination and adulteration,” the doctors wrote. “This also renders consumers unable to judge the potency of marijuana, which is like drinking alcohol without knowing its strength. More- over, where marijuana is merely decriminalized, the point of sale remains in the hands of drug dealers, who will sell marijuana— as well as more dangerous drugs—to children.”
This isn’t the first time Elders has spoken up about marijuana and drug law reform.
In 1993, while serving as surgeon general, she advocated that the country should seriously consider legalizing drugs. “I do feel we’d markedly reduce our crime rate if drugs were legalized,” she said. “I don’t know all the ramifications, but I do feel we need to do some studies.”
While acknowledging that state legalization “has not been perfect,” Elders and her coauthors ague that “it is far better than the prohibition it replaced, and the worst fears of opponents have not materialized.”
They also point out that decriminalization polices don’t actually fully protect consumers from criminal sanctions and other consequences.
“Contrary to popular belief, decriminalization does not actually end the arrests of marijuana users,” they wrote. “Despite New York State decriminalizing marijuana in the 1970s, New York City makes tens of thousands of marijuana possession arrests every year, with continuing racial disparities in enforcement. Finally, under a decriminalized system, the government prosecutes marijuana growers and sellers, thus constricting the supply chain. This drives up the price of marijuana, making the untaxed illegal product more lucrative, the market for it more competitive and violent, and purchasing it more dangerous.”
Atlanta’s mayor signed a marijuana decriminalization ordinance into law this week.
Read: Here’s The Final 2018 Farm Bill That Will Legalize Hemp
The final text of the 2018 Farm Bill was released on Monday, and industrial hemp legalization made the cut. Votes to send the legislation to President Trump’s desk are expected this week.
The bipartisan provision, championed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), will enable U.S. farmers to cultivate, process and sell hemp, the market for which is now a multi-billion dollar industry.
Following the announcement last month that lawmakers in the Senate and House Agriculture Committees had reconciled their respective versions of the agriculture legislation—with hemp legalization in the mix—questions remained about a controversial provision in the Senate version that would ban people with felony drug convictions from participating in the hemp industry.
But a compromise was reached and the final version will allow such individuals to work for hemp businesses after 10 years.
Read the text of the final 2018 Farm Bill’s hemp provisions here, followed by explanatory statements from the conference committee:
Farm Bill Hemp Provisions by on Scribd
Marijuana Moment excerpted the above sections dealing with hemp from the full 807-page Farm Bill and committee explanatory documentation.
“While this Farm Bill is a missed opportunity, there are some good provisions,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said in a press release. “One of those provisions is to roll back our senseless hemp prohibition.”
“Our forefathers would be rolling in their graves if they saw us putting restraints on a versatile product that they grew themselves. We have farmers growing thousands of acres of hemp in dozens of states across the U.S. already. You can have hemp products shipped to your doorstep. This is a mainstream, billion-dollar industry that we have made difficult for farmers. It’s past time Congress gets out of their way.”
Under the legislation, hemp would no longer be in the jurisdiction of the Justice Department. Rather, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will lightly regulate the crop.
If the bill passes and President Trump signs it, hemp legalization will go into effect on January 1, according to VoteHemp.
Watch: Sen. Mitch McConnell Uses Hemp Pen To Sign Farm Bill Legalizing The Crop
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) signed off on the final version of the 2018 Farm Bill on Monday…and he used a pen made of marijuana’s non-psychoactive cousin, hemp, to so do.
The senator has been the leading proponent of an industrial hemp legalization provision, which recently made its way into the final version of the wide-ranging agriculture legislation.
“Making it official with my hemp pen,” McConnell wrote in a tweet that includes video of him signing off on the proposal. “Proud to have served as conferee on Farm Bill & to fight for Kentucky priorities.”
Making it official with my hemp pen!🖋️ Proud to have served as conferee on #FarmBill & to fight for #Kentucky priorities. With today's signature, my provision to legalize industrial #hemp is 1 step closer to reality. Looking forward to voting YES on this bill & sending to @POTUS pic.twitter.com/8ypwBebXy7
— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) December 10, 2018
“With today’s signature, my provision to legalize industrial hemp is 1 step closer to reality. Looking forward to voting YES on this bill & sending to [President Donald Trump].”
The full text of the final Farm Bill legislation is expected to be publicly released on Tuesday, with votes anticipated in the House and Senate in the coming days.
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
New York Governor May Include Marijuana Legalization In Budget Proposal Next Month
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) might just go ahead and include full marijuana legalization in his budget proposal set to come out next month, Crain’s reported on Monday.
Two state lawmakers told the outlet that they’d heard rumors about the governor’s plan, which would build on his recent efforts to put legalization on the table during the next legislative session. Cuomo instructed a working group to draft legalization legislation in August after the state Department of Health came out with a report that found the pros of ending cannabis prohibition outweigh the cons.
If the historically anti-marijuana governor, who as recently as last year was calling cannabis a “gateway drug,” did put legalization in his budget proposal, it’d mean “the state could have a fiscal framework for the program as soon as April,” Crain’s reported.
What exactly that fiscal framework would look like is unclear, and Cuomo’s office declined to comment on the report. It’s possible that the budget would account for the costs of whatever legislation the working group ultimately releases; however, since the bill has yet to be released and the governor’s proposal is expected for January, that might be cutting it close.
In 2014, reform advocates expressed disappointment after Cuomo and leading lawmakers agreed to a budget deal that did not include a medical marijuana legalization bill. Months later, Cuomo signed separate medical cannabis legislation and, in the years since, the governor has grown more amenable to broader reform—especially in the heat of a contentious primary battle against Cynthia Nixon this year.
When the state does go forward with legalization, money is going to be a point of particular interest for lawmakers and advocates, as can already be seen as a debate over a proposal to use cannabis sales tax revenue for public transit in New York City intensified last week.
Photo courtesy of Zack Seward.