When President Donald Trump decided to appoint Sen. Jeff Sessions to the post of attorney general, marijuana advocates knew they were in for a rough ride. Though the country has made tremendous strides in terms of cannabis policy over the past five years, Sessions has been a lifelong detractor. He has voiced very strong opinions against marijuana and legalization. He even said he liked the members of Ku Klux Klan — until he found out they used cannabis, of course.
Sessions is an anti-drug warrior and has made that very clear through his public testimony over the years. Due to his rather extreme — extreme for our current culture, anyway — views on cannabis, he’s walked the line between fact and myth in a very liberal fashion. He tends to toss out grandiose and dire predictions about what would happen if states continue to legalize or if law enforcement isn’t allowed to continue drug raids unabated.
Often, he outright lies about marijuana. And we know they are lies because they are easily and readily dispelled. Obviously, everyone is entitled to their opinions, and that includes Sessions. But when you’re America’s top lawyer and running the Department of Justice? We’re all better served if you stick to the facts. Here are 10 of the most pervasive and damaging lies Sessions keeps repeating about cannabis.
1. ‘We do know that legalization results in greater use’
- Cue Ron Howard: “It doesn’t.”
This is one of Sessions’ more recent comments and also one that is easily dismissed. Sessions said in areas where cannabis has been legalized, use rates go up. That’s actually not a very crazy idea — you would probably expect that to happen, in fact. But a recent study also shows it’s erroneous. Published in the journal Addiction, the study said “medical and recreational marijuana policies did not have any significant association with increased marijuana use.” So we know Sessions is wrong on this count, at least until we see data to prove otherwise.
Next: Perhaps the most pervasive (but factually incorrect) lie Sessions keeps repeating
2. ‘Marijuana is a dangerous drug’
- Studies verify cannabis is significantly less dangerous than legal substances, such as tobacco and alcohol.
This is at the core of most anti-legalization arguments. For generations, Americans were told cannabis is an incredibly dangerous substance that leads to violent crime (more on that in a minute), death, and destruction. But we’re starting to see just how wrong we were. Studies have shown marijuana is, in fact, much safer than many other common (and perfectly legal) substances. For example, researchers have found cannabis is not nearly as toxic or dangerous as a cigarette and as much as 100 times safer than alcohol.
Next: The “danger” myth is pervasive. But so is the myth regarding a connection between “violence” and marijuana use.
3. ‘There’s more violence around marijuana’
- In Denver, the violent crime rate dropped 2.2% the year after legal cannabis markets opened. In Washington, violent crime dropped 10% between 2011 and 2014.
Here’s another myth commonly associated with marijuana use: It causes violent behavior. There was actually a study published recently that reached that conclusion. But the real-world statistics indicate otherwise. Violent crime in Colorado and Washington — the two states which were the first to legalize recreational cannabis — have seen violent crime decrease in the interim. There is still research to be done, but when compared to another legal substance, alcohol, there’s some significant contrast. Alcohol is a factor in 40% of all violent crimes.
Next: Are we too tolerant when it comes to drug use? Sessions thinks so.
4. ‘We have too much tolerance for drug use’
- The surge in drug-related arrests and sentencing over the past several decades points us to a different conclusion.
This is an interesting quip from the attorney general, who seems not to be aware that the War on Drugs over the past few decades has led to mass incarceration on a scale never before seen. The United States is home to 5% of the world’s overall population and more than 20% of its prison population. Of the more than 200,000 people in federal prisons, almost half are serving sentences related to drug use.
“Over the last few decades, we’ve also locked up more and more nonviolent drug offenders than ever before, for longer than ever before,” President Barack Obama said at the 2015 NAACP conference. “And that is the real reason our prison population is so high.”
Effectively, we’re the world’s biggest jailer. And a huge number of those people are in prison because of drug charges. So, no, the U.S. isn’t particularly tolerant when it comes to drugs.
Next: Is cannabis comparable to heroin?
5. Marijuana is ‘only slightly less dangerous’ than heroin
- Heroin overdoses killed 13,000 people in 2015. There’s never been a single verified death attributed to a marijuana overdose.
This quote, even on its face, doesn’t pass the smell test. We’ve already gone into how cannabis is less dangerous than a beer, a glass of whiskey, or even a cigarette. So how on Earth could it be on par (or close to) with heroin? One quick way to dispel this lie is to look at the associated deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 13,000 people died from heroin overdoses in 2015 alone. Conversely, there’s never been one verifiable death as a result of a marijuana overdose. And that’s according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Next: Are youth use rates on the rise?
6. Youth use rates are on the rise
- In Colorado, use rates of those between the ages of 12 and 17 have fallen. Between 2014 and 2015, there was a 12% year-over-year drop.
Another concern Sessions has raised is use rates among young people are on the rise. Again, it might make sense to think when a substance becomes more readily available (i.e., legalized), it would be easier for kids to get their hands on it. But interestingly enough, it’s not happening. According to Washington’s 2016 Health Youth Survey, use rates among teens has remained flat, “notwithstanding the legalization of marijuana in 2012,” legislators wrote to Sessions. Federal data also show similar trends, with use among teens actually falling rather than increasing post-legalization.
Next: Are legal markets causing black markets to grow?
7. Legalization is leading to ‘the growth of black market enterprises’
- The black market for cannabis products still exists, mostly due to higher prices through the legal markets.
What happens to a black market when the goods and services exchanged on it are suddenly made legal? A lot of things — but expansion probably isn’t one of them. Sessions mentioned this in his letter to Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson. In that letter, Sessions argued the state’s regulatory structure was inadvertently causing black market operations to expand and grow.
While there have been instances of legal marijuana finding its way to states in which it is still illegal, blaming legal operations for creating illegal ones is hard to square.
Next: How can we bring Obama into this?
8. Obama was ‘lax’ on marijuana
- The Obama administration was criticized for crackdowns on recreational and medical cannabis.
We’ll chalk this one up as a half lie. Clearly, the Obama administration’s stance on marijuana differed radically from previous administrations. Legalization started under Obama, and you can’t discount that. But Obama mostly stayed quiet on it until 2014 when he famously told the New Yorker, “I don’t think (marijuana) is more dangerous than alcohol.” There was also legislation passed under his watch to protect medical marijuana users and states in which legal markets had been set up.
That said, we have to remember many of the classic War on Drugs tactics continued under Obama. In fact, the DEA and other enforcement agencies actually saw an uptick in activity under the former president. That’s not exactly a “lax” approach, but it’s laxer than Sessions would have liked.
Next: The “hype” around medical marijuana
9. ‘Medical marijuana has been hyped, maybe too much’
- It may be gaining popularity — 94% of Americans want medical cannabis legalized — but “hyped” is a stretch.
There may or may not be “hype” surrounding medical cannabis. But is it overhyped? Probably not, considering that it still exists in a legal gray area. Cannabis is showing incredible promise for pharmaceutical and medical purposes. It eats cancer cells, for example, and can help people kick addictions. There are a lot of reasons to be excited about it. But is it overhyped, as Sessions suggested? It’s probably underhyped, if anything.
Next: Finally, Sessions’ most famous quip regarding cannabis users
10. ‘Good people don’t use marijuana’
- This is Sessions’ opinion — but it’s an ugly one.
If there’s one thing people will associate with Sessions for the rest of his life, it’s likely the time he said: “Good people don’t use marijuana.” This was said during a 2016 Senate hearing. It’s something you’d expect your grandma to say — not a sitting U.S. senator and certainly not a future attorney general. But there you have it. While Sessions is probably right in that there are some bad people who use cannabis, you can be darn sure there are a lot of good ones, too.
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