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Foss: Leave legal marijuana alone

Foss: Leave legal marijuana alone

Impact of attorney general's stance is far from clear
Foss: Leave legal marijuana alone
Sara Foss writes that she's met some of New York's medical marijuana users, and they are good people.
Photographer: Daily Gazette file photo

Most people want to be popular. 

Or at least well-liked. 

Not U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

Sessions seems intent on becoming the least popular person in America. 

At least that's how I interpret his head-scratching decision to rescind an Obama-era policy that discouraged federal prosecutors from interfering with the marijuana industry in places that have elected to legalize the drug. 

What was once a fringe movement has become relatively mainstream, with 29 states, including New York, moving to legalize some form of cannabis — recreational, medicinal or both. 

And here's the thing: Legal pot is popular, and becoming more popular all the time, if polling data is to be believed. 

Not only that, but the reefer madness-type problems we were told legalization would cause haven't come to fruition, although there's been a few kinks to work out here and there.

New York's medical marijuana program is, by all accounts, tightly regulated and responsibly run, and has provided relief and treatment to 40,000 people dealing with painful and chronic conditions such as epilepsy and cancer. 

Why these people should have to worry about being caught in the crosshairs of a federal crackdown on marijuana is beyond me. 

They're not causing any trouble, and there's no clear benefit to be gained from criminalizing the program that's helping them cope with serious illnesses — a move that would effectively turn them into criminals for using an illicit substance.  

Of course, the impact of Sessions' stance on marijuana is far from clear.

While his actions signal an old-fashioned "war on drugs" approach to marijuana, he stopped short of directing prosecutors to crack down on pot.

Which means that it's quite possible the federal government's hands-off approach to states that have legalized marijuana will continue, even as the federal government's shift in policy creates an air of uncertainty or even fear. 

As the legal writer Ilya Somin noted in a blog post for Reason magazine, "Nonetheless, the Sessions policy reversal is potentially very important. At the very least, it signals a new, more aggressive federal posture towards states that have legalized marijuana. ... And while the feds may not have the resources to go after the vast majority of marijuana sellers, even targeting a few could have a major chilling effect."

My guess is that the feds will ignore New York's relatively small and low-profile medical marijuana program.

But it's difficult to know for sure what will happen, and the policy change opens the door to unwanted interference.

What makes Sessions' announcement so maddening is that it's not grounded in reality.

Much of what we're finding out about legal marijuana is positive.

In Colorado, one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, teen drug use and opioid overdose deaths have both declined. Other studies have also shown a drop in opioid overdose deaths in states that have legalized medical marijuana.

These are trends that are worth exploring, rather than reasserting musty old myths about how good people don't smoke marijuana — an old Sessions quote.

I have met some of New York's medical marijuana users, and they are good people.

I hope the feds leave them alone.

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.

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