On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were asked at a Democratic town hall event to express their views concerning the legalization of recreational and medical marijuana. The event aired nationwide on CNN and featured the two presidential candidates answering questions from a moderator before a packed house. To give some background on the issue, President Richard Nixon, despite the objections of a panel of medical experts, made marijuana a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. The act currently places marijuana in the same legal category as heroin, Quaalude, ecstasy, and LSD.
There’s an important facet to the criminalization of marijuana: the disparate prosecution of America’s minorities and poor. African-Americans and whites use marijuana at about the same rates. Yet, black men and women are four times as likely to be incarcerated for marijuana possession. The U.S., as a result of the War on Drugs, now boasts the largest incarceration rates in the world; far surpassing communist China (population: 1.3 billion).
In the run up to the 2008 presidential election, Hillary Clinton was asked to elucidate on the issue of medical marijuana. She said, “I think for people who are in extreme medical conditions . . . there should be availability under appropriate circumstances.” Clinton’s views on the issue haven’t exactly evolved much since then.
On Wednesday, CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked both Bernie Sanders and Clinton about measures they would take on this issue, if elected. This is what Senator Clinton said:
“We have to work on law enforcement. We have to work on doctors & understand better when they prescribe opioids; the first step toward heroin. Police have to be equipped with naloxone, which is the antidote to reverse overdose. So, all of this fits together. You deserve answers about marijuana & we deserve more treatment for people that are addicted to drugs and alcohol.”
The first thing Clinton mentions when asked about pot is heroin. A revealing remark – she instantly lumps marijuana in with one of the most addicting drugs on the planet. Then, she talks about enforcing existing drug laws (more of the same). Also, the reader should note that she says the American people deserve more treatment, which is a diplomatic way of saying she believes in the idea of treatment but won’t do anything to actually improve access or funding for it. Finally, Clinton mentions the drug naloxone, which brings heroin overdose patients back to life. Clinton claims she never toked the green stuff while a neophyte political science major at the prestigious, all-female Wellesley College. Perhaps Hillary believes you can overdose on pot, which is physically impossible (believe me, I’ve tried).
Hillary Clinton also claims there isn’t enough research to justify legalizing medical marijuana. This would be a dubious argument considering proper research can’t be conducted at the federal level on marijuana because politicians like Clinton and President Obama refuse to remove it from Schedule I status. A perfect Catch-22. Though, there is enough of a body of evidence at this point to prove Clinton’s concerns are entirely without merit. Perhaps it’s her Big Pharma friends that are holding her back. After all, a certain pharmaceutical giant is pumping millions into the anti-legalization movement and Clinton’s campaign. This might have something to do with evidence that suggests patients often stop taking other prescription medications as a result of marijuana’s dramatic and overall positive effects.
There is another Catch-22 tactic that both Senator Clinton and President Obama use frequently when asked about the possibility of marijuana legalization. They claim the states are free to decide the issue on their own. The problem is, state legislators are obviously remiss to legalize something that could be trumped at any moment, on any political whim, by the federal government. Also, banks simply will not do business with legal dispensaries in Colorado and Washington, both recreational and medical, due to this very issue.
In fact, Bernie Sanders is the only presidential candidate among both parties that is talking about the systemic nature of marijuana laws on African-American incarceration disparity. Domestic drug laws can be viewed as a form of institutional racism. Here is Sanders’ response when asked the same marijuana question at Wednesday’s town hall event:
“The fact that blacks and whites do marijuana at about an equal level, and yet four times more blacks get arrests. The fact that blacks are more likely to be stopped by police [sic] in a vehicle and get arrested than whites. Those are huge issues! And this is what I have said and repeated through a virtually all-white state, but I’ll say this all over the country.”
Radley Balko states in his book, Rise of the Warrior Cop: the Militarization of America’s Police Forces, that since the 1980s under Ronald Reagan there have been transfers of surplus military equipment – we’re talking tanks, armored personnel carriers, grenade launchers, helicopters – to police departments across the country. Congress then formalized this practice in the 1990s under the guise of the War on Drugs. Now, what do you think the sheriff of some tiny, backwoods township in Tennessee is going to say when Uncle Sam calls & tells him he can get his own APC?
Finally, I’d like to point out that politicians like Hillary Clinton seldom discuss another important issue surrounding marijuana legalization. As long as it’s a scheduled substance under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, tens of thousands of American workers will continue to get fired from their jobs for the heinous act of smoking a joint on the weekend. I simply ask, “Is that freedom?”