Republicans Quietly Admit Medical Pot Is Here to Stay

Michigan Pushes to Protect Medical Marijuana Dispensaries
Photo by Matthew Staver/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

No medical marijuana patient’s garden was too small for Asa Hutchinson. Under Hutchinson, who served as the administrator for the DEA under George W. Bush from August 2001 to January 2003, the nation’s drug cops raided cannabis grows with as few as six plants.

Once the windowsill-sized gardens were wiped out, their gardeners went to prison—even if they were demonstrably sick medical marijuana patients, and even if it required some legal trickery.

To trigger plant-count-based mandatory minimums, Justice Department prosecutors would add up the number of marijuana plants grown over a period of several years. This meant growers in California could be in constant compliance with state law, but if they grew 33 plants a year for three years or more, it meant prison time in a federal bust.

It was ugly, but it was a losing battle long since lost—and at last, everyone seems to be admitting it.

Eight years after leaving the DEA, Hutchinson told a university audience that sick people should be allowed whatever doctors recommend, “whether it is Marinol or marijuana or whatever.”

This fall, Hutchinson, now the Republican governor of Donald Trump-supporting Arkansas, opposed a ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana in his state—but it won anyway. Twenty-eight states now allow medical marijuana.

Since then, Hutchinson has kept up a pledge not to stand in the way and has signed into law the legislation required to put cannabis in Arkansas’ patients hands. Those bad old days of raids on tiny medical gardens? They’re over forever.

“I think it’s too late to turn back the clock on medical marijuana,” he told the Daily Beast over the weekend.

Not exactly a full-throated endorsement, but hugely significant—because this is now what passes for mainstream Republican politics.

President Donald Trump signaled support for medical marijuana on the campaign trail and appears set to keep that promise. On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer—who set off the latest round of marijuana’s existential angst by suggesting recreational cannabis could see more federal enforcement—took pains to clarify that medical marijuana is cool and good.

[T]here is a specific carve-out… for medical marijuana,” Spicer said in response to a reporter’s question on Wednesday. “And I think the president understands that that can be a vital part of treatment, especially for terminally ill patients and people facing certain kinds of medical things.”

Even truth-challenged Attorney General Jeff Sessions hasn’t had discouraging words to say about medical cannabis.

Know what this means? Medical marijuana has won.

There will be some diehards fighting rearguard actions, and it will still take some time before all 50 states have reliable access to medical cannabis. But whether it was a whopping 93 percent of Americans telling pollsters they support medical marijuana, or the shameful realization that so much time and money had been spent on policing plants for patients, even steadfast drug warriors know that particular war is over.

It’s been easy to forget in all the hoopla over what Sessions may do to recreational cannabis, but medical marijuana is here to stay in the United States. 

Only recreational cannabis is currently in question—and then only for anyone living in pure denial. Seventy-three percent of Americans support legalization, and even anti-weed governors prefer to dodge questions rather than soapbox about the perils of legal weed as they would have when Hutchinson’s DEA was fighting a plant-by-plant struggle. 

And if the past is still prologue, this means it’s only a matter of time before the same detente is made with recreational cannabis.

Even with Jeff Sessions in charge of the Justice Department, the DEA is not nearly as militant as it was in Hutchinson’s day. We’ve made it. All we’re waiting for is for everyone to realize it.

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