You may not have seen this, but Washington State Governor Chris Gregoire, joined by Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, petitioned the federal government to reclassify marijuana as a prescribable substance. Both Washington and Rhode Island have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, and are among the sixteen states that have done so. These states’ laws are in direct opposition to the Drug Enforcement Agency’s stance that marijuana is a Schedule I substance, a drug with no medical value.
The effectiveness of the medical marijuana laws in states are nullified by the federal ban on possession of marijuana, period. Even the Washington State Department of Health warns potential users that they cannot protect against those who are arrested under federal statues. Marijuana dispensaries in Seattle and Tacoma were recently the target of federal raids.
OK, this is a case where states and the federal government are at odds. This has happened before, and is not necessarily news, but why should millennials care?
First, the debate over drugs has been largely political, racial, and not subject to empirical reality. Gov. Gregoire herself offers that having marijuana in a higher schedule than opiates is illlogical, “People die from overdose of opiates,” she said. “Has anybody died from marijuana?” If drug laws were not so ideological, expressing disagreement would not cost border patrol agents their careers.
Second, budgets are tight and so all expenses are worthy of being scrutinized. The “War on Drugs” is expensive. Consider the expense of enforcing drug crimes while rape kits often sit unprocessed for lack of resources. The war on drugs has contributed to the highest rate of incarceration in the world, as well as the most prisoners. Incarceration cripples future job prospects, disrupts families, disrupts communities, and affects different social strata (such as racial groups) disproportionately. The rates of drug enforcement do not match use among racial groups. This is to say nothing about the drug wars on the US-Mexican border. These laws are important because they have such high economic and social costs.
Third, half of all people arrested for drug-related offenses are age 31 and younger – millennials. If you are white or upper class, you may not be feeling the consequences quite as painfully as those who are less privileged. It affects us no less. Medical marijuana use tends to be for illness that are more common for older people – cancer, AIDS, and so forth. The petitions are time consuming to evaluate, and even more time consuming as the FDA would need to get involved. The lack of immediate effect or benefit ultimately means that our generation is best situated to reap the benefits of this proposed change.
Reducing the severity of marijuana restrictions would permit it to be legislated not only in distribution, but also in production. Other reasons to make note of Govs Gregoire’s and Chafee’s petition is that this is a demonstration of a change in political climate surrounding drug laws. Washington state tends to be very liberal, and Chafee’s politics often are too. It is no longer taboo to support changing the drug laws.
Federal support for medical marijuana wouldn’t mean that we’ve legitimized the supposed past-times of hippies and rastafarians nor would it dramatically change the content of fancy dinner parties. Social and political change is often accomplished by a hammer and chisel method as opposed to complete upheaval. lf millennials would like to see different stewardship of collective resources, we need to pay attention.
What do you think? Should we be pushing this issue now that it’s getting close to election season?