Keep local marijuana laws from going up in smoke

Mark Holden, General Counsel and Senior Vice President, Koch Industries, shares the Koch perspective

January 18, 2018

In states across the country, from Alaska to California to Maine, citizens have spoken on marijuana. They have voted to legalize and regulate its sale and use for medicinal or recreational purposes. In other states, they have voted to decriminalize its use or possession. Koch believes it should be up to the states to decide whether to legalize or decriminalize it, in accordance with their constitutional and legal processes. But by rescinding a set of memos that largely discouraged federal prosecutors from bringing marijuana-related charges in jurisdictions that had legalized sales, the United States Justice Department has called into question every single local—and lawful—decision.

Image of Koch Industries Mark Holden
Read more about Mark Holden here.

When it comes to protecting the Constitution and the rights it guarantees, the Justice Department has an obligation without comparison. As citizens, we entrust it and the attorney general of the United States with enormous responsibility. This includes the fair and equal application of the law for all citizens, especially as it pertains to the 10th Amendment, which gives states the right to enact and enforce their own laws.

That Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a Republican appointee in a Republican administration, is undoing a Democratic appointee’s work from a Democratic administration is irrelevant. Republicans and Democrats alike have criticized the decision, and for good reason: It does little to improve the lives of people in our communities.

Politics matters little regarding the human impact of this decision. Koch backs policies that respect individual states’ 10th Amendment rights—especially considering the tremendous progress on criminal justice reform made in statehouses across the country. The legalization of marijuana in various states has also created an industry of entrepreneurs and investors—business owners, growers and lawful distributors—whose livelihoods are now at stake because of federal overreach.

Resources spent fighting a misguided war on drugs should instead go toward programs for those reentering society, including rehabilitation, treatment and job training. Instead of prosecuting non-violent drug offenders for doing what has already been legalized in half a dozen states and decriminalized in several others, the administration would be better suited working with members of Congress to reform outdated sentencing laws.  However well-intentioned these laws were upon implementation, they have ruined lives, torn apart families and communities, and have burdened taxpayers, doing little to keep people safe.

The most successful states are those that have acknowledged that the time has come for a new, smarter approach to drug policy that respects individuals’ human rights and ensures greater safety for our communities. In the District of Columbia, where residents voted in 2014 to permit adults 21 or older to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and smoke privately, the number of cases involving the drug has dropped dramatically—from 4,599 related arrests in 2010 to 587 last year. In turn, prosecutors have been able to focus on large-scale trafficking and violent crime instead of simple possession cases.

The year is new, and there is still time to reverse course. Rather than grow the size and scale of the federal government and encroach upon the freedom of individual states and citizens, the Justice Department can reconsider their decision. They can choose to be on the side of individual liberty and states’ rights. They can choose to be on the side of the millions of Americans who have made their voices heard loud and clear.

Read more about why Koch Industries believes in advocating for the principles of a free and open society here.