There are a number of reasons for legalizing marijuana, but in the current American debate, the most prominent argument is based on the fact that African Americans are disproportionately impacted by law enforcement. That is entirely understandable in the era of Black Lives Matter.
However, in his Senate confirmation hearing, Judge Merrick Garland, Biden’s choice for Attorney General, also pointed out that interfering with state marijuana laws is “not a useful use of limited resources.”
It is astonishing that even today we are still arresting half a million Americans annually for simple possession of marijuana. That is more than for all violent crimes combined. Is that the best use of finite criminal justice resources? Is that a Conservative value?
It creates major opportunities for graft and corruption and also undermines the respect for the law generally. Historically, the arguments for “States’ Rights” have just been used to limit the rights of minorities, especially African Americans, but the medical marijuana movement and the marijuana reform movement generally have been overwhelmingly white, until very recently. “White privilege” only goes so far.
Under Trump’s Attorneys General, Sessions and Barr, the Department of Justice seemed intent on harassing the various businesses that were operating legally under state laws. Barr supposedly ordered DoJ attorneys to pursue antitrust enforcement against any mergers by marijuana companies. Antitrust laws are supposed to protect the consumer, which is not exactly what one might expect in this context.
In the meantime, the two main forces driving federal reform are still racial disparities and the states’ drive for badly needed tax revenues. Both have powerful constituencies. Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer (D-NY) knows that New York, and especially New York City, badly need new tax revenues, and the city also needs many new jobs. He has promised that the federal government will get out of the way. And, of course, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is from California.
Ironically, if conservatives would show more support for legalization based on support for limited government, they might prevent high state sales taxes and overly complex regulations, and help end the black market, which everyone supposedly wants.
The conservative movement is badly split between pro and anti-Trump factions. If the Republicans hope to win majorities in the House and/or Senate, they need to stop and look at where the majority of the American people are:
Overwhelmingly in favor of legalization.
Richard Cowan is a former NORML National Director and author of What Are The Advantages Of CBD Massage?