Smoke Sessions

Sessions' call for a return to the War on Drugs may end it

You may have heard that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week called upon his army of federal prosecutors to pursue the "highest" charges possible against alleged drug offenders.

For the vast majority of us, that doesn't mean much. It means the options of those convicted in federal court are dwindling down to mandatory minimum sentences should federal prosecutors bear Sessions' banner.

However, as much as Sessions wishes he was still leading the cavalry against Union forces, this is the 21st century, and things are different now.

The biggest difference is that marijuana has a much wider, much more "out" base of supporters than when Sessions was expressing his disappointment that those guys who dressed in sheets smoked too much weed.

That support base is comprised of more than just those darn hippies, now; it includes medical professionals, business women and men, patients and their loved ones who see the benefits of medical marijuana.

Along with a general consensus that the War on Drugs has already been won by the drugs, Sessions might not have as easy a time as he thinks rekindling the rally fires.

It's no secret at this point that the main effect of the War on Drugs hasn't been a decreased use among Americans—in fact, when it comes to marijuana, use is at an all-time high—but an increased rate of minorities arrested, convicted and imprisoned on minor drug charges.

Blacks and Latinos make up 57 percent of people convicted for drug offenses, despite using drugs at a similar rate to white people, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. Black people are 18 times more likely to be arrested for crack/cocaine, down from 100 times more likely in the '80s.

Across the country, blacks are about 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites, the Washington Post reported in 2013.

We know that, but so does Sessions.

Sessions' call for stricter penalties is sure to be met with criticism for attempting to apply ineffective, outdated policy to a decades-old debate. The question is whether the legal and financial resources of those who can see through smoke and suggest policy less harmful to society can match the resources of the federal government to return to its backwards ways.

While it might still sound like a stretch, marijuana advocates and reformists are better poised than ever to make real progress. With legal medical marijuana in 28 states and a continuous raft of states legalizing recreational use, Sessions will have a hard time turning back the tide.

If the army of the pro-marijuana population rallies an effective defense, we could once and for all see an end to the War on Drugs—a wakeup call that leads to better laws and practices that create an equitable legal framework in which marijuana use is accepted and controlled.

We could see a refocusing on rehabilitation and mindful reform to address the opioid epidemic instead of stuffing prisons as we lead the world in incarceration rates.

Or, if all hope is in fact lost, we could once again watch as billions of taxpayer dollars are funneled into private interests for prisons and against race.

So here's hoping there's still enough light in the federal government to stem the monetary and social costs that could be borne by future generations for decades to come.