State by state, America is getting legal marijuana—whether the federal government likes it or not. And as weed makes its slow shift from the illegal market to the gray market to a fully transparent and regulated market, the chaos, backlash, and wildfire of moral turpitude predicted by doomsayers on the right has failed to materialize.
It took the same state-by-state struggle—proving that wherever it was locally sanctioned, nothing horrible happened as a result—to finally get to last week's Supreme Court decision recognizing the right to gay marriage. As blogger Andrew Sullivan told the Atlantic after the Supreme Court decision: "It's a virtuous cycle. The more we get married, the more normal we seem."
Solutions to seemingly intractable national problems—from civil-rights issues like gay marriage to economic knots like income inequality—can be found, and may have to be found, through local battles*.
Earlier this week, Louisiana governor and Republican presidential candidate Bobby Jindal signed a law allowing medical-marijuana patients access to cannabis. That added the first Southern state to the 23 others, plus the District of Columbia, that have some form of legalized marijuana.
Now Politico notes that three law-and-order types on the US Senate's Judiciary Committee—Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)—"have begun speaking up about the need for more clinical research on the marijuana compound known as cannabidiol, or CBD."
Feinstein and Hatch even "complained that current drug laws impede the parents of sick children from access to what appears to be a helpful medicine."
They're an unlikely trio to be signaling a shift in federal thinking about marijuana—just last month, Michael Collins of the Drug Policy Alliance told the San Francisco Chronicle that Sen. Feinstein was "the worst senator on marijuana reform."
That said, this recent New Yorker profile about Feinstein—detailing her willingness to tangle with the CIA, an agency she normally supports, to expose torture—shows she's willing to engage with the facts as they are rather than stick with whatever habits and loyalties she's shown in the past.
Getting the federal government to begin talking about loosening restriction on medical marijuana research is a big deal. Marijuana is currently a schedule-one drug, meaning it doesn't have any recognized medical benefit—even opium is a schedule-two drug.
As Sanho Tree, a drug-policy expert at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, once put it, when a drug is listed as schedule one, there are "infinitely more hoops you have to jump through and you're basically at the mercy of the DEA" to do any research.
But the more research we have, the more we'll know what cannabis actually does—to help us or to harm us—which will help us wrench the reactive, "just say no" narrative away from the federal drug warriors. (The hard-won right to research can also pave the way for social progress like Vancouver's safe-injection site for heroin users—which was largely made possible by getting an injunction that allowed them to study the benefits of prescribing heroin to users instead of insisting they switch to methadone.)
Back to Politico, which reports that Sens. Grassley, Hatch, and Feinstein...
... sent a clear signal in a packed hearing room last week, when the senators took on the tricky issue of CBD, a compound derived from an illegal drug but which many scientists and public health officials believe could treat conditions including cancer, diabetes, chronic pain, and alcoholism. Some parents and doctors have already turned to CBD as an anti-seizure medicine for children who suffer from rare and extreme types of intractable epilepsy...
The lawmakers’ comments, coming on the heels of two recent Obama administration moves to expand medical-marijuana research, marked another pointed moment in the country’s shifting views on drug policy.
Sen. Hatch said that Utah was "certainly no redoubt of hippie liberalism," but in 2014 became the first state to legalize the use of CBD oil. "Now," Politico writes, "he's pushing the Senate to pass a bipartisan bill that would remove CBD from the definition of marijuana under federal law, giving parents a green light to buy the medicine without the threat of DEA agents busting them."
Back to the Atlantic: "As gay couples got married in more and more states, the apocalyptic warnings of opponents didn’t seem to be coming true, and there was little backlash, even in conservative strongholds like Utah."
Utah, which is leading the way on legalizing CBD oil, and the Republican governor of Louisiana, who just authorized access to medical marijuana, are edging their way out of the prohibitionist camp.
Local changes, even when they contradict federal law, make a difference.
* This all has resonance with Seattle's local political races as well. Yesterday, at an endorsement meeting in the SECB bunker, which smelled like sweat, exhaustion, and pizza, socialist city council member Kshama Sawant was criticized by one challenger for being too focused on the "big picture"—like nationwide fights to raise the minimum wage—instead of the micro needs of her (newly created) district.
Sawant countered by saying the most urgent needs of any district (housing, transportation, inequality) transcend districts—and that by taking on achievable struggles at the local level, you might be able to drag the country with you.
The headlines are proving her right. Last month, Los Angeles became the largest city in the country to introduce a $15 minimum wage.