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  • Christopher Smith, Editor-in-Chief

Wrong General, Wrong War, and a New Deal on Cannabis

The seeds of a successful US cannabis policy were planted in Portugal in 2001.

The brilliant and counterintuitive decriminalization strategy implemented by Portugal in 2001 to address the ravenous spiral of heroin/violence/HIV that threatened to take the country apart remains unprecedented in its boldness, simplicity, and success.

The basic thread of the Portugal success was that pre-2001, drugs were treated as a crime issue, with punishment as the incentive not to use drugs. As during American [alcohol] Prohibition, human nature and cold-hearted economics combine to create a social disaster. Drug dealers would sell to anyone, users would do anything to get it (including violence) and in the case of heroin, spread HIV through needles or sex. The HIV rate jumped to the highest in the European Union, swamping the country's healthcare system.

Instead of doubling down on police thuggery, or trotting out the President's wife, Portugal in 2001 decided to treat drugs as a health issue, with care and treatment as the incentive.

The Results in Portugal?

  • "Drug-related HIV infections have plummeted by over 90% since 2001, according to the drug-policy think tank Transform.

  • Drug-related deaths in Portugal are the second-lowest in the European Union. Just three in a million people die of overdoses there, compared with the EU average of 17.3 per million.

  • The number of adults who have done drugs in the past year has decreased steadily since 2001.

  • Compared to rest of the EU, young people in Portugal now use the least amount of "legal high" drugs like synthetic marijuana, which are especially dangerous.

  • The percentage of drug-related offenders in Portuguese prisons fell from 44% in 1999 to 21% in 2012.

  • The number of people in drug-treatment increased 60% from 1998 to 2011 from 23,600 to 38,000."

We could have learned quite a bit from the Portuguese initiative, but even with all this data available the US has failed on drug policy, and specifically egregiously, with the continued prohibition of cannabis, the US government has learned little, and done even less. The problems are structural, but they are fixable.


It is well-known that Attorney General Sessions is against the legalization of cannabis. We believe he's said some really ignorant things about cannabis that match his age, career, and his upbringing, OK?

But guess what? The Attorney General does not make laws, he only enforces them. Laws are made by Congress. We believe he was entirely correct yesterday when in testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee, he said:

“The federal government has passed some laws on marijuana that I’m not able to remove from the books. Congress — you — have passed them.

They are on the books.”

[This may make some in the cannabis club want to give us a wedgie by the bike racks but c'mon kids, let's fight to win.]

The fatal flaw in US drug policy is NOT that the wrong person is in charge -

THE WRONG OFFICE IS IN CHARGE. It's NOT that Jeff Sessions is the wrong man for the job, it's that his entire pillar of the US Government is the wrong one to think about cannabis.

It's time for the US Congress to update the entire structure of the system that manages and regulates cannabis to reflect current realities and the will of the American People. It's time to bring the whole current dysfunctional cannabis issue to the floor and fix it.

Because medicinal cannabis and recreational cannabis are so different:

  • Oversight of medicinal cannabis regulation should move out from the Attorney General to the Surgeon General

  • Regulation of the commercial cannabis industry needs to move from the Justice Department to the Commerce Department.


At some point in the early 1970's American generals and politicians recognized that the American citizens massed in the streets in protest against the Vietnam War were right. The war was a failure that killed thousands of Americans for no notable achievement, and the enemy would never surrender.

The War on Drugs surpasses the failures of the Vietnam War manyfold. Drugs are more powerful, more affordable, and more accessible than ever before. The Prohibition of Cannabis, begun in the 1930's, is the poster child for that failure. If cannabis plants were rockets, we'd be on Jupiter by now.

  • The Prohibition of Cannabis must end

  • As a Peace Treaty, the DEA Schedule of Controlled Substances must be updated. Cannabis must be federally decriminalized and moved to Schedule III

  • ​PS: Cocaine and methamphetamine must be rationalized accordingly (because saying cannabis is more dangerous than coke and meth is just stupid and embarrassing).


Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the New Deal to deal with the complex issues of the Great Depression. The Marshall Plan is credited with rebuilding Western Europe after World War II. Both were historic in scope and impact.

We believe the depth and breadth of issues around cannabis now demands a global template to embrace and regulate its:

  • vast medicinal potential

  • safe use as an adult social product

  • commercial potential (in-state, intrastate, and international)

  • public safety issues such a driving and workplace issues

  • taxation and financing of public benefits such as schools and infrastructure

  • potentially millions of jobs and job training

  • multiple levels and purposes of testing...

If there were a man or woman in the US Government, or perhaps the US Business or Military communities had enough imagination, discipline, and endurance, who happened to be seeking a place in history - this could be the opportunity of a lifetime for leadership.

It's time to put a new name in the history books. Who will stand up?

Image Source: Washington Times / AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

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