Nov 18, 2010
There are now 15 states with medical marijuana laws, but at a Senate committee hearing yesterday to confirm the next head of the DEA, not a single person asked nominee Michele Leonhart how she would address this growing divide between state and federal marijuana policy. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R - AL) did, however, take the opportunity to make sure Leonhart will remain a loyal, unquestioning, die-hard drug warrior.
Mike Riggs has the story in today’s Daily Caller:
Perhaps due to the failure of Prop 19 in California (and despite the passage of medical marijuana in Arizona), Kohl, along with Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Al Franken of Minnesota, made no mention of medical marijuana. Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, however, made it his prime focus.
“I’m a big fan of the DEA,” said Sessions, before asking Leonhart point blank if she would fight medical marijuana legalization.
“I have seen what marijuana use has done to young people, I have seen the abuse, I have seen what it’s done to families. It’s bad,” Leonhart said. “If confirmed as administrator, we would continue to enforce the federal drug laws.”
“These legalization efforts sound good to people,” Sessions quipped. “They say, ‘We could just end the problem of drugs if we could just make it legal.’ But any country that’s tried that, Alaska and other places have tried it, have failed. It does not work,” Sessions said.
“We need people who are willing to say that. Are you willing to say that?” Sessions asked Leonhart.
“Yes, I’ve said that, senator. You’re absolutely correct [about] the social costs from drug abuse, especially from marijuana,” Leonhart said. “Legalizers say it will help the Mexican cartel situation; it won’t. It will allow states to balance budgets; it won’t. No one is looking [at] the social costs of legalizing drugs.”
Actually, Ms. Leonhart, there is a vast academic literature exploring the social cost of liberalizing drug laws, and the overwhelming conclusion most studies reach is that prohibition does far more harm than most of the substances themselves ever could, especially marijuana. Riggs cites just one example, a 2009 Cato Institute white paper released eight years after Portgual decriminalized illegal drugs, which concludes: “None of the nightmare scenarios touted by preenactment decriminalization opponents — from rampant increases in drug usage among the young to the transformation of Lisbon into a haven for ‘drug tourists’ — has occurred.” He could have also cited another Cato study from this year showing that the U.S. could improve its national budget by nearly $18 billion a year if marijuana were taxed and regulated like alcohol, a legal substance that has eight times the health care costs of marijuana, and is – according to one California study – responsible for 403 times more emergency room admissions than marijuana.
But in the twisted fantasyland where people like Sessions and Leonhart spend most of their time, things like “facts” and “studies” don’t seem to carry as much weight as the unshakeable notion that drugs are bad and so, in positions of authority, “we need people who are willing to say that,” as Sessions put it.
The disgraceful exchange between Leonhart and Sessions is just another example of how the American public is far ahead of politicians when it comes to marijuana policy reform issues, and why our movement will continue to look to individual states – and not the federal government – to drive change.