Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly recently signaled a reversal in his opinion on marijuana — a reversal that puts him at odds with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions has repeatedly remarked that he disagrees with the legalization efforts going on nationwide and even linked use of marijuana to an alleged increase in violence.
Neither the supposed increase in violence nor a connection between weed and violence is supported by evidence. However, despite a prohibition on most research regarding marijuana, we do have at least one solid fact: Despite Sessions’ regard for it as "poison," no death from a pot overdose has ever been reported, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s drug fact sheet on the substance.
Contrast that, as Kelly has, with methamphetamines, cocaine, and opiates. According to his recent quote in The Washington Post, some 52,000 people have died so far from opiate overdoses. And, while it’s impossible to value human misery in money, Kelly says, the U.S. has been spending $250 billion a year combating the problem.
"The solution is not arresting a lot of users," Kelly stated in the Washington Post The solution is a comprehensive drug-demand reduction program in the United States that involves every man and woman of goodwill.
Kelly’s approach is the one best supported by scientific evidence, but it may not be the most popular. In the Trump administration, a hard-core crackdown appears to be more emotionally satisfying. Trump himself has remarked that President Duterte’s violent, no-due-process policy in the Philippines is "the right way."The incoming head of the Office on National Drug Control Policy would be only slightly less ruthless, preferring to commit drug users to a "hospital-slash-prison."
Every administration has the right to its own policy priorities, but they should be based on American values and on proof of efficacy. Kelly has the right idea in that the federal government should focus first on reducing harm from truly dangerous drugs by helping abusers get help. It’s just as critical to make sure that interactions between the federal government and states that have legalized marijuana are rational and respectful, and that all federal drug action follows due process and our other constitutional values.