Two developments this week worth noting:
- The FDA will soon approve the first prescription drug made from cannabis. Created to control epilepsy, the drug will take a naturally occurring plant and monetize it for the benefit of pharmaceutical company shareholders. And so it goes.
- John Boehner announced he'll join the board of Acreage Holdings, a marijuana cultivation and distribution company. This is the same John Boehner who was “unalterably opposed” to legalization in 2011 and who voted to prohibit medical marijuana in the District of Columbia in 1999.
What's going on? According to the New York Times, the tide has turned, "Thirty-nine states have legalized marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes. The legal marijuana industry raked in $9 billion in sales last year and is expected to bring in $11 billion this year. Nevada netted $30 million in tax revenue in the first six months of legal sales, while Colorado has earned more than $500 million in tax revenue since recreational marijuana sales became legal there in 2014."
But while all this money-making is going on, two populations continue to be negatively affected. First are black people, who are four times as likely to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession as whites, even though they use the drug at about the same rate. North Carolina jails and prisons are overflowing with people of color who have been targeted by our racist police forces and our racist laws. There's no other explanation that makes any sense.
The second group of people consists of people like me. I suffer from social anxiety to such a degree that I have become almost a total recluse. People and social situations scare me. Many years ago, I learned that light marijuana use could reduce my anxiety enormously. These days though, I have no choice but to struggle with various chemical cocktails provided by Big Pharma, Big Medicine, and Big Insurance. All three have conspired to make it impossible for me to get the relief I need.
Why hasn't North Carolina joined the 39 states who have legalized marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes? Our inaction makes no sense.
- The revenue opportunity is enormous and could easily eclipse the NC Education Lottery, providing much needed funding for public education.
- Even more important is the social justice impact. A carefully executed transition to legalization could cut North Carolina's prison population by half, saving taxpayers upwards of half-a-billion dollars a year.
Progressives, libertarians, and fiscal-conservatives could easily find common ground on this issue. But outside of a few lonely progressive voices, I see no evidence of interest by policy-makers. For all their happy talk about freedom, the John Locke and Civitas crowds are all but invisible.
I believe responsible Democrats could own this issue in the upcoming election cycle. Start with a focus on medical marijuana, make a clear and powerful case for change, and crush Republican opponents who we know will say and do anything to protect the profits of Big Pharma.
Marijuana is not meth. Marijuana is not opioids. Marijuana is not alcohol. And you don't have to look very hard to see that marijuana is safe:
DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge, Francis Young, in response to a petition to reschedule cannabis under federal law concluded in 1988 that, “In strict medical terms marijuana is far safer than many foods we commonly consume.... Marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within the supervised routine of medical care.”