Why Americans Want Legal Marijuana and Why the DEA Won’t Have It

Several recent polls have confirmed that more and more Americans are fine with the idea of marijuana legalization. In fact, the Pew Research Center published a poll in 2014 that showed that 54% of Americans are in favor of legalizing the drug. This is an increase of two percent from 2013’s results. This may seem like a small increase, but that two percent represents the opinion of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Additionally, a full three-quarters of respondents believe that nationwide legalization is inevitable.

This particular poll also indicated that over 65 percent of respondents feel that alcohol is more harmful than marijuana on the whole. Indeed, while there are numerous examples of individuals perishing from accidental alcohol overdose, the same can’t be said for marijuana overdose. In fact. there is no record of a death directly related to marijuana over consumption. The Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, has reported that alcohol is to blame for 37,000 deaths per year. The organization doesn’t have an equivalent category for marijuana deaths—because they don’t occur.

America’s physicians are well aware of this, and in fact, for the first time in history, more than half of medical professionals are in favor of medical marijuana. These results were gleaned from a 2013 WebMD poll. Their report, Marijuana on Main Street, details the responses from over 1,500 medical professionals specifically. According to Dr. Michael Smith, more than 20 years of anecdotal evidence of marijuana’s medical qualities isn’t enough to convince all doctors that it should be legalized, but more and more physicians are coming on board all the time.

The DEA

Two DEA Agents out in townThe Drug Enforcement Administration was established in 1973 at the height of the Nixon-led anti-drug frenzy. The agency answers to the Department of Justice, but nevertheless has a great deal of autonomy. The organization’s mandate is to combat drug smuggling as well as domestic drug use. Current agency head Michele Leonhart has expressed dismay at the fact that the Obama administration has supported the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Colorado. Leonhart openly bashed the administration at a congressional hearing in early 2014, stating that the agency will fight back, and that they will work harder to satisfy their mandate. Nevertheless, the agency has stated that it will not interfere with states that wish to pursue legalization.

However, Leonhart has also criticized the Department of Justice for not issuing a firm response to Washington and Colorado lawmakers, citing that there was confusion as to whether the states had the right to legalize the drug. However, many government officials have been taken aback by the DEA’s stance. After all, marijuana is responsible for exactly zero deaths. A0cc ording to DEA chief of operations James L. Capra, however, everywhere marijuana legalization has been tried, it has “failed time and time again.” Capra sums up his feelings succinctly, saying, “It scares us.” The official went on to claim that there are more weed dispensaries in Denver than there are Starbucks cafes.

Complications

Given that Leonhart and Capra are adamantly against legalization of marijuana in any form, it must come as a shock that one of their own, Patrick Moen, has left the DEA to help cannapreneurs start their businesses. Moen served in law enforcement for most of his life, starting out as a street cop and then ascending to the rank of sheriff’s deputy before joining the DEA. But the DEA agent tendered his resignation from the agency’s Portland office—where he hunted cocaine traffickers—to go work for Privateer Holdings. The company aims to support legal marijuana dispensaries in their quest to create ever more potent strains. Moen’s role in the organization will be to keep federal prosecutors at bay.

Whether the DEA will win its war against cannabis or not is unclear. One thing is certain: The majority of the American people no longer fear the plant, and with faltering public support, it will be difficult for agencies like the DEA to satisfy their mandate. On the whole, it appears as if the US government is suffering from doublethink. Some aspects are for legalization, and some staunchly against. This situation will doubtless create a great deal of friction before it’s resolved to anyone’s satisfaction.