With marijuana being the cause of fiery debate all across America, recent headlines have catalyzed a further push for legislation enabling use of the drug. While marijuana use remains illegal by federal law, it appears that America’s “War on Weed” is like a wick, burning slowly — headed towards a conceivable disappearance sometime in the distant future.
In a January interview with The New Yorker, President Barack Obama spoke of his marijuana use during his youth, favorably likening the drug to alcohol. When it comes to policy, however, Obama has tip-toed away from the spotlight, retorting in a January interview with CNN, “What is and isn’t a schedule one narcotic is a job for Congress.”
The future may not be near, as much of Senate sternly opposes any change in the federal stance on the drug. However, on February 11, a bipartisan group of 18 congressmen wrote Obama a letter urging to reschedule marijuana, a schedule one drug. The group bided that schedule one classification “makes no sense.”
President Obama may have denounced marijuana rescheduling in his interview with CNN as a matter exclusively for the Senate to handle, but this is not entirely true. Representative Earl Blumanauer (D-Ore.), who drafted the letter, and his cast of 17 other House of Representatives members have pointed out that Attorney General Eric Holder could reschedule the drug.
In February, national news has been dominated by more marijuana-related headlines. On Tuesday, The New York Times published an article about marijuana in relation to the sobriety test. Recent scientific studies have found that driving under the influence of marijuana may be as many as 18 times safer than driving while at the legal limit of blood alcohol content, which is .08 percent.
Marijuana use has also proven to cause headaches for law enforcement. A published 2012 study found that only 30 percent of those under the influence of marijuana fail the field sobriety test, in comparison to an overwhelming 88 percent of drunk drivers that fail the test.
Research suggests that someone under the influence of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) is twice as likely to be in an accident in comparison to a sober driver. While this is concerning, it is meager compared to driving while at the legal limit for drinking; chances of an accident increase 20-fold with a .08 percent BAC.
For this reason, scientists and U.S. citizen alike are pleading that marijuana be removed from any DUI jurisdiction. “I’m not saying marijuana is safe, but to me it’s clear that lowering the B.A.C. should be our top priority. That policy would save more lives,” Mark A.R. Kleiman, UCLA professor of public policy, told The Times.
Veterans across the country are also arguing for their own medical marijuana use. Recent studies have linked marijuana as a worthy treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in veterans. Since, groups such as the Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, Veterans for Weed United, and Veterans and Civilians for Cannabis Legalization have formed in hopes of medical use to treat PTSD, depression and chronic pain. Currently, veterans are pushing heavily for medical marijuana bills to pass in Oregon and in New York, allowing treatment for their PTSD.
As stated by Jose Garza at a state Senate hearing in Oregon: “I’m not a hippie. I’m not a stoner. I’m not a criminal. I’m a United States veteran, and this is what saved my life.” The hearing was held to argue for the addition of PTSD to conditions treatable by medical marijuana in Oregon. While many states have medical marijuana policies, most do not currently account for PTSD.
A January national survey by CBS News found that 51 percent of Americans approve of marijuana legalization, a number that has grown from 45 percent in April 2013. The study found that the only age group that opposes legalization is those 65 and older.
Americans who are Republicans or identify as conservatives both sport a 61 percent opposition to legalization while Democrats (59 percent) and those who identify as independents (54 percent), liberals (72 percent), and moderates (54 percent), all support legalizing marijuana use. An overpowering 86 percent of Americans think doctors should be allowed to prescribe marijuana for medical use for serious illness.
With an abundance of new marijuana political jabber cropping up every day, what does it all mean? Well, it means two things.
First, it means the rate at which more states create marijuana legislation will either charge on with more haste than ever, or at least continue at the same rate. Colorado and Washington are the only states at this point to entirely legalize recreational use of marijuana, but a January article by US News pegs 2014 as a year in which Alaska, Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington, D.C. all have the potential to legalize. However, 2016 is expected to be the more likely year in which substantial voter initiative will take place. 2016 holds a more favorable possibility for legalization in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana and Nevada.
Secondly, recent marijuana headlines mean that nothing on the federal level can be expected anytime soon. The Senate is unlikely to budge, even in regards to rescheduling marijuana — which will likely remain a schedule one drug. As a schedule one drug, pot is lumped in with drugs that are associated as being more seriously harmful, such as heroin, LSD and ecstasy.
Here in Massachusetts, marijuana is decriminalized; citizens caught with a negligible amount of marijuana (under an ounce) are fined rather than subjected to jail time. Massachusetts already has medical marijuana legislation. It went into effect on January 1, 2013. While the process as a whole has involved many moving parts, progress towards fully enacting this legislation has consistently splashed across local headlines here in Western Massachusetts, as recently as this month.
As of February 9, two medical marijuana dispensaries here in Western Mass. have received licenses to open shop — one in Holyoke, and one in Northampton. Despite this approval, it will be an estimated six months before either dispensary is serving patients.