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OPINION

For Christmas, end war on marijuana

Posted on November 24, 2021

OpinionColumns

Thomas L. Knapp

Thomas L. Knapp

You’ve seen the headlines. So have I. For example, a Nov. 23 story in my local paper, the Gainesville (Florida) Sun: “Gainesville man charged with murder for Sunday shooting in dispute over marijuana deal.”

It wasn’t a huge marijuana deal. It was a $180 sale. The seller apparently shot a buyer who tried to drive off without paying.

Other common headlines of the “police blotter” variety include people put in handcuffs and hauled off to jail for buying, selling or possessing a common plant. Then over in the medical section, we’ll see that some kid ended up in the hospital or even dead after — the claim seems dubious, but I guess it’s possible — smoking marijuana laced with fentanyl.

What we don’t see are headlines about people shooting each other over, getting arrested for or dying from buying a blister pack of pain reliever or a bottle of nighttime cold medicine at Walgreens. Or, for that matter, paying $180 for those things.

Over the course of nearly a century, the war on marijuana — based from the start on myth, hype and intentionally cultivated moral panic — has put millions of Americans in jail or in their graves over a medically valuable and recreationally pleasant plant that’s been used throughout human history and that’s safer than tobacco, alcohol and most over-the-counter medications.

Some U.S. states have taken steps toward a ceasefire, legalizing marijuana for medical and/or recreational use, but it still remains illegal at the federal level despite the occasional introduction of bills to change that.

The latest such offering comes from U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., who introduced the States Reform Act on Nov. 15. It would federally decriminalize marijuana, clear the federal prisons of “criminals” whose only “crimes” involved the plant and make interstate commerce in it legal.

The bill isn’t perfect — it includes a federal excise tax and subjects the plant to the same regulatory regime as alcohol — but it’s a giant step in the right direction. There just aren’t any good arguments for keeping marijuana less legal than aspirin, tomatoes and fidget spinners.

Congress tends to move in slow motion when it moves at all, but this bill could and should be the exception.

For Christmas, there’s little I’d like more than an end to the headlines about deaths, arrests and hospitalizations over marijuana. Congress should pass the SRA and put it on President Biden’s desk before Santa comes to town.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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