The morning after Election Day, I went on Headline News and tried to gift the host an ounce of OG Kush.
“It’s perfectly legal,” I reminded her, after she jumped a bit in her anchor chair (before politely declining my offer).
Cannabis legalization ballot initiatives had just passed in eight states at once, so I also made the point that ending the War on Weed now enjoys far higher support nationally than either major political party or presidential candidate—with 89 percent in favor of medical marijuana and 60 percent for full legalization. Which represents a truly grassroots victory, one backed by a people-powered movement that’s persevered despite facing a century of government propaganda and enforcement, with the massive vested interests of the establishment squarely aligned against us.
We’ve endured 800,000 arrests a year, replete with no-knock raids, lying narcs, sleazy informants, massive surveillance and racial profiling, while taking on everyone from Big Pharma to the prison-industrial complex. So if you judge the strength of a resistance by the power of its oppressors, we’ve got a lot to be proud of—and also some hard-fought lessons to share.
But first we need to look hard at ourselves. Because it’s gut check time.
If confirmed, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions will be the next attorney general of the United States, making him the head of the Justice Department and the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Plainly put, he’s among the most staunchly anti-marijuana politicians in recent memory. Perhaps by now you’ve heard some of his greatest hits on the subject:
- “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
- “We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it’s in fact a very real danger.”
- “You can’t have the President of the United States of America talking about marijuana like it is no different than taking a drink…”
- And oh yeah, he once “joked” that he thought the KKK was “okay, until he learned that they smoked marijuana.”
On a more positive note, during the campaign, President-elect Trump expressed “100 percent support” for medical cannabis and told the Washington Post that “in terms of marijuana and legalization…I really believe we should leave it up to the states.”
Furthermore, to put it bluntly, my hope is that over the last five years, enough of the 1% have moved into the marijuana industry to effectively protect against a roll-back of existing state laws.
After all, the rich in this country tend to get their way, and there’s some filthy rich people selling weed now, creating a peculiar kind of bulwark that—as someone who’s written a lot about the downsides of corporate cannabis—ranks as a pretty bitter irony. And yet that’s the reality of the moment.
To be clear, none of the above constitutes anything close to a guarantee of safe passage through the coming political and societal tumult, in the short term or beyond. Cannabis remains federally illegal, and it would take no more than a single sternly worded memo from Attorney General Sessions to cast every grower and distributor straight back into the shadows. At which point, the “investor class” would by-and-large cut bait and move on, having nothing more at stake than profits.
Even in a best case scenario, where the incoming administration makes it explicitly clear that they’re taking a strict “state’s rights” approach to cannabis, we’re still in for at least four years of absolute opposition to science, reason, compassion and common sense when it comes to federal law enforcement and marijuana. How far this will go remains to be seen, but no matter what the feds unleash, know this: they’ll never eradicate this plant, our culture or our movement.
Our struggle didn’t end when the first state legalized; it will go on until the last arrest. Because as long as one person faces punishment for cannabis, anywhere in the world, then none of us truly blaze free.
Conservatives for Cannabis
Another bit of good news is that support for cannabis legalization now cuts across party lines.
Since January 2014, according to YouGuv, the percentage of Republicans in favor of legalizing marijuana has grown from 28 percent to 45 percent (with 42 percent opposed)—a staggering jump in less than three years. This explains how medical cannabis could win decisively in conservative states like North Dakota, Arkansas and Montana on the same night they voted for Donald Trump by wide margins.
Now, hopefully the fact that many of his own supporters came out to vote for legalization will give the president-elect pause before signing off on any kind of cannabis crackdown, but let’s also be clear: We wouldn’t be facing an attorney general like Jeff Sessions in the first place if it wasn’t for these very same pro-cannabis conservative voters. Because whatever your reasons for voting Trump, the consequences include bringing to power those who want to return to the good-old-days when armed agents of the state (be they DEA or local cops) could kick in the doors of peaceful pot smokers in the middle of the night, shoot our dogs, take our children away and haul us off to prison. (All of which still happens with alarming regularity in much of the country.)
Those of us who’ve been fighting back against this bullshit have felt that boot on our necks for a long time. We didn’t need an election to tell us that the government lies and uses its power illegitimately and punitively. For the last century, we’ve experienced these same unconscionable and unconstitutional attacks on our basic human rights no matter which political party has held power in Washington, D.C.
When Prop 215 passed in 1996, making California the first state to legalize medical cannabis, the Clinton administration responded by threatening to revoke the licenses of any doctor that dared to recommend cannabis to patients. President Obama frequently jokes about smoking copious amounts of cannabis in his youth, while the youth of today continue to have their futures ruined over minor marijuana violations.
So this is not a left/right problem. It’s a right/wrong problem.
And now, for the first time in living memory, we can clearly envision a coming moment when this most wondrous plant will be celebrated, instead of denigrated. But that won’t end our struggle either.
Because we know that the roots of this terrible vendetta against cannabis go much deeper than a single plant. Harry Anslinger’s original Reefer Madness-era campaign to make marihuana federally illegal was soaked in racism and a desire for societal control, as has been well documented.
And the modern War on Drugs shares the same regressive impetus, as former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman once admitted.
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people,” Ehrlichman said. “You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
They probably won’t come for us first. Pot’s popular now, and bullies never go after the popular kids first. They go after those already marginalized and work their way up.
But they’ll surely get to us, if not stopped sooner. Because at its very essence, marijuana is a threat to autocratic thinking. I like to say marijuana isn’t anti-establishment because it’s illegal—it’s illegal because it’s anti-establishment. Cannabis, among many other virtues, continually coaxes us to ask both why? and why not? in a society that’s built on making sure we question nothing. That’s why the “ruling class” in America made marijuana illegal in the first place, not because it’s a danger to us, but because it’s a danger to them.
So if you think it’s safe to sit back and puff away on legal weed while others suffer injustice, please think again.
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