Congress should ‘Just Say No’ to dangerous drug policy
Bill Montgomery, Guest Contributor
Note: This article originally appeared in The Hill July 14, 2017
The federal government once took a stand against illegal drugs and even condemned their harmful effects in the 1980s.
They urged the public to “just say no” to drug use and you may remember the country actually responded positively to our national leadership’s strong stance on drugs. Researchers found that illicit drug use, particularly among students, actually declined during that time.
Given this successful time in history, it is difficult to believe that the current Republican majority in Congress would even consider the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which would deprive the Department of Justice of funding to enforce federal laws for marijuana offenses.
In April, the National District Attorneys Association published a white paper which detailed why federal drug control policy constitutionally preempts states from legalizing marijuana for recreational or medicinal use.
Currently, 29 states, including Arizona, have marijuana laws that conflict with and are preempted by federal law. Federal law is supposed to apply equally to all states and those using, producing, selling, manufacturing, and transporting marijuana in those 29 states are not immune from federal investigation and prosecution.
Unfortunately, over the last eight years the marijuana industry has flourished nationally because the previous administration refused to enforce federal laws for marijuana offenses.
I have seen the effect of this failed policy as Arizona’s Maricopa County Attorney, serving the country’s fourth most populous county with more than four million people. Coming from my own experience as a prosecutor, I agree with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the current administration in urging Congress to “just say no” to the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, so they can faithfully and fully execute the laws of the United States in their official capacities.
The marijuana lobby fully supports the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment because it is a significant step toward federal legalization of marijuana, and the marijuana lobby knows that incremental legalization is the only path to success.
For example, Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2000, and by 2012 voted to legalize it for recreational uses. Today, Colorado has multiple marijuana markets including medical, recreational, and underground. While they may operate differently, the fact remains every one of them operates in violation of federal law.
Unsurprisingly, Colorado has also experienced many undesirable side effects from marijuana legalization from a three percent increase in collision claim frequencies since 2014 to an increase in the number of children being arrested for marijuana offenses. More significant is the large increase in the number of emergency room visits related to marijuana use for children and teenagers.
Those are all a clear and quantifiable cost to the legalization of marijuana in terms of public health, welfare, and safety.
Marijuana is the only drug in the United States that is given out by medical practitioners, but is not subject to regulation by the Food and Drug Administration. That in itself renders nonsensical the claims that marijuana from state-licensed dispensaries is safer than marijuana from the underground market.
When it comes to medical marijuana patients, only a small number are being treated for cancer or another specific medical illness. In Arizona, data shows that most people using marijuana for medical reasons suffer from “chronic pain” and are often listed as males between the ages of 18 and 30.
This is the same age group that shows the highest recreational marijuana usage. In states like ours, medical marijuana has become de facto recreational marijuana.
If Congress believes that marijuana should be legalized for medical or recreational use nationally, then it should not do this opaquely by passing the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment to the Fiscal Year 2017 Omnibus Appropriations bill.
Rather, Congress should amend the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, which includes the Controlled Substances Act and the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
Changes to federal drug control policy cannot be created through the failure to enforce current laws. Rather a change should be conducted with a conscious effort and be both transparent and reasonable.
A change like this, if pursued at the federal level, must also include additional research on the medical uses for marijuana, including determining an appropriate per se standard for marijuana impaired driving, and a comprehensive regulatory scheme for marijuana based upon scientific evidence.
Amendments should also specifically prohibit the use of marijuana by children and penalize those who provide it to them in recognition of the mounting evidence that marijuana use is far more harmful to children than adults.
I urge Congress to again take a firm stance against illegal drugs by opposing the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment. If they are unwilling to continue to acknowledge the harmful effects of marijuana, then they must be willing to amend federal law and take on the tasks of research and regulation to ensure the health, welfare, and safety of the public.
Bill Montgomery is the Maricopa County Attorney, a West Point Graduate and a decorated Gulf War Veteran.