Before President Obama made his final State of the Union address to Congress, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D) of Oregon released his own cannabis-themed state of the union.
Blumenauer is an ardent advocate for legalization who is fighting to end the federal cannabis prohibition, provide a fresh start for people convicted of minor cannabis offenses and to convince the DEA to soften its hardline stance on marijuana.
On Jan. 12, he released an open letter to President Obama that urged him to seize the opportunity to end the unjust and harmful prohibition on cannabis. "A State of the Union speech is a unique opportunity to address Congress and the nation about priorities and accomplishments, as well as to highlight critical issues."
In the letter, Blumenauer spells out what changes are needed to end cycles of injustice and discrimination created by prohibition.
1. Prohibition is a failed social experiment
"We both know the prohibition of marijuana has not and will not work," Blumenauer wrote. "Recent surveys find that 18 million adults used marijuana in the past month — and well over a million use it legally under state laws for medicinal purposes. Despite dire hyperbolic warnings and the threat of citation, arrest, or even prison, all evidence indicates Americans will continue to use marijuana, especially since younger Americans feel even stronger that it ought to be legal. They understand that, while not without risk, marijuana is certainly less dangerous than tobacco — which is legal in every state despite its highly addictive nature and proven deadly consequences. Indeed, if we were scheduling drugs today, tobacco would probably be classified as Schedule I and marijuana would be left off.
2. Poor, black Americans are the #1 casualty in the War on Drugs
"A shocking 620,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in 2014," Blumenauer noted. "No area is more stark and unfair than the treatment of African Americans — particularly young men.
"Research shows they are no more likely to use marijuana, yet the heavy hand of the law descends upon them with a vengeance. Depending on where they live, African Americans are two to eight times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana, according to a study by the ACLU. Unlike white middle class Americans, for young men of color — especially if poor — even a minor infraction can have devastating consequences. They can be forced from their family home if they are living in public housing, or have difficulty obtaining federal student loans to make it nearly impossible to attend college."
3. The federal government should focus efforts on harmful drugs
"Current federal policy declares marijuana has no medicinal value and implies it is more dangerous than methamphetamine or cocaine. I don't believe that any member of your Administration believes this is true. Yet inaction creates another serious consequence — an inability to focus on real threats to public health. Cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and opioids are all far more dangerous than marijuana. In 2013 alone, over 20,000 people died of prescription drug overdoses — while there have never been any reported marijuana overdose fatalities."
"This is also wrong. By telling Americans something demonstrably false, the case and credibility of drug enforcement authorities at all levels is weakened."
4. Americans are at the mercy of the black market
"For all the talk about gateway drugs, having millions of Americans relying on the black market for marijuana only opens the way for thugs to directly market to young people and those desperate to deal with depression and pain. No drug dealer checks for ID on the street corner or schoolyard. They have no license to lose and every incentive to sell other more dangerous, addictive and profitable drugs."
5. Call for an end to prohibition
"It is time, Mr. President, for you to take the next logical step, cementing your legacy in history on drug reform and a fairer criminal justice system. Call for an end to marijuana prohibition and de-schedule marijuana. The House and Senate are reluctant to take bold action to legalize marijuana at the federal level, but you don't have to wait. Under your leadership by de-scheduling marijuana, you will trigger monumental reform, allowing states to continue their pioneering efforts and putting pressure on Congress to take additional actions to tax and regulate...
"Please seize the moment. We can't wait. The time is now. The country is ready."
Obama didn't take up Blumenauer's challenge, but he still has a year to do so. To quote the last line of Blumenauer's letter, "We hope you will respond, 'Yes, I will.' "