Why Jeff Sessions Should End his War on Marijuana

A photo of Jeff Sessions on stage
"Jeff Sessions" by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (via Flickr)

Six in 10 Americans believe that marijuana should be legalized. Yet, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions has openly declared a “War on Marijuana.” Sessions recently reversed several policies enacted by President Obama, making it easier for prosecutors to enforce federal laws regarding marijuana in states where it is either medically or recreationally legal. So far, marijuana is recreationally legal in eight states and medically legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia, making it both a large recreational and medical industry.

Sessions’ attack on the legal marijuana industry has been met with harsh criticism both from Democrats and from his own party. Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, a state in which marijuana is recreationally legal and has created a booming economy, has threatened to block all nominees to the Justice Department unless Sessions ends his attack on the marijuana industry. Republicans have also expressed anger at the fact that Sessions is reversing Trump’s campaign promise to leave marijuana laws to the states. Sessions has always expressed an anti-drug sentiment, and he is running the Justice Department with that personal preference in mind. He went as far in 2016 to say, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

Sessions’ comments and actions suggest that he has a personal vendetta against the legalization of marijuana, making his actions less than ethical. In a world where there are far more dangerous substances than marijuana, one could argue that the energy expended in Sessions’ war against marijuana could be well spent elsewhere. In a new study, researchers have found that alcohol presents the highest risk of death among the competing substances of nicotine, heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. Of the aforementioned substances, marijuana usage has the lowest risk of death.

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism also presents high statistics regarding alcohol-related deaths. An estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related deaths in the United States each year. Additionally, 31 percent of traffic fatalities involve alcohol. In contrast, there has yet to be a marijuana overdose reported, and the drug seems to help economies, rather than drain economies, like alcohol abuse. The NIAAA reports that alcohol misuse cost the US $249 billion in 2010. A recent data analytics firm’s report forecasted that marijuana could generate $132 billion in tax revenue if legalized on the federal level.

Supporters of stronger federal prosecution of the marijuana industry argue that the drug increases crime and use of other more dangerous drugs like opioids. Yet, border crime related to marijuana trafficking has decreased as a result of the legalization in some US states. As for opioid use, a study done in Colorado (a state characterized by an upward trend of opioid deaths) showed a 6% decrease in opioid-related deaths following the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state.

Based on popular opinion and statistics, it seems that the war on marijuana may be ill-founded. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has his hands full with more pressing and more dangerous drugs, like alcohol and opioids. Alcohol has become so normalized in the United States that its dangerous effects are underestimated and barely examined as an issue for the greater public health of Americans. If Sessions were truly concerned about the health of Americans as he claims, it would make more sense for him to focus on a substance, like alcohol, that claims tens of thousands of lives each year.

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Abigail graduated from DePauw University in 2018.