Editorials

It’s time for new tactics in the war on drugs

People navigate a hall at The Emerald Cup at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. The event, billed as the “Oscars of the outdoor cannabis industry,” brings together medical marijuana growers from California’s Emerald Triangle to show off and sell their products.
People navigate a hall at The Emerald Cup at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. The event, billed as the “Oscars of the outdoor cannabis industry,” brings together medical marijuana growers from California’s Emerald Triangle to show off and sell their products. esmith@sacbee.com

Somewhere a calculator is ticking, counting the billions of dollars the United States continues to blow on the war on drugs.

Thankfully, Congress, seems to have gotten the memo that it’s time for a strategic retreat in some quarters. For evidence of this, look no further than its $1.1 trillion spending bill, set for a vote this week.

In the face of a rising national epidemic of heroin and opioid abuse, lawmakers agreed to eliminate a longstanding, idiotic ban on using federal funds for state-run needle-exchange programs. Public health officials agree such programs can drastically reduce the spread of HIV where intravenous drug use is rampant.

And Congress agreed to face the reality that several states have legalized medical marijuana and are trying to regulate it. Because of an amendment, sponsored by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa, and Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, ✔no federal money will be spent in 2016 chasing, arresting or prosecuting licensed cannabis patients, farmers or sellers.

For California, this comes as a relief. After nearly two decades, the state is finally starting to regulate what’s thought to be a $1 billion industry. Many pot farmers who have been operating in the shadows, doing their best to avoid being locked up or fined, are gearing up to restructure their operations as legitimate businesses.

Many are excited by the prospect, as are owners of dispensaries. After all, who wants to keep living in fear of a drug raid?

But many are overwhelmed, too.

The last thing they – and California – need is the federal government creating uncertainty where certainty is beginning to take shape. The same can be said for the dozens of other states that have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana and reducing penalties for drug use.

We remain skeptical of efforts to legalize cannabis for recreational use, but see no reason for the government to spend another dime prosecuting people for possession of weed.

The federal government needs to catch up with the states. A good place to start is with the provisions that lawmakers left out of the spending bill, including one that would have granted pot businesses access to banks so they can stop dealing in cash.

An effort to change that in Colorado failed this year when the Federal Reserve refused to accept money from the industry because the drug remains illegal under federal law.

There’s also no excuse for still classifying cannabis as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, supposedly more dangerous than methamphetamine, cocaine and oxycodone, effectively preventing research into it.

Something has to give. The clock, like the calculator, is ticking.

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