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Crosstalk: Should Sessions target pot sales?

There is no way that Americans should support a restart on the war on drugs that lands even more people in prison when we already have the highest incarceration rate in the world.

It is too late for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to go after marijuana sales and use in the 29 states that have legalized the drug.

The entire situation has been backwards for years — states chose to allow sales of cannabis even though pot is federally classified with heroin and LSD to be one of the most dangerous drugs. The federal government took no action as a growing number of states were given the green light by voters to allow sales of medical and/or recreational marijuana — so it is too late to go after states now.

Sessions’ decision last week to rescind an Obama-era policy on federal marijuana enforcement rightfully sparked an outcry from Republicans and Democrats. His new direction lets federal prosecutors in each state decide how aggressively they want to enforce federal law.

In reality, all Sessions did was shift policy to say that federal drugs laws should be enforced, but local U.S. attorneys can use their discretion.

Critics of Sessions’ decision contend the federal government should stay out of states’ marijuana choices. They cite the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which says states have all powers that are not specifically delegated to the federal government or denied it.

It’s all well and good to hide behind the constitution now, but Congress should have acted on this issue when the first states legalized pot for medical use.

States cannot legally violate federal law with their choices, so this ridiculous situation was only one change of administration away from chaos.

If America is going to give its citizens yet another way to avoid dealing with reality, then Congress ought to decree that each state can make its own choice about legalization of marijuana.

The federal government should step out of the picture on this issue.

Maybe Sessions was forcing the issue with his announcement, which would be genius, but more likely he is doubling down on enforcement since he has always been a hardliner on drugs.

The problem with increased enforcement is that we have 2.6 million people now in prison and our recidivism rate tops 76 percent. What we are doing in this country with mass incarceration is an epic fail so it makes no sense to up the ante and throw even more people behind bars for drug crimes.

We need to revamp the entire criminal justice system to focus on restorative justice. America needs to live up to our values as a society and actually give people the second chances that we like to spout off about.

And then we need to get some common sense in play about how we make laws in this country.

Back to the constitution...

Our founders gave the federal government only 27 specific powers, including the power to coin money, regulate commerce, declare war, raise and maintain the armed forces and establish a post office.

Other implied powers were also granted if they were necessary to carry out the execution of the above duties.

Federal law has always trumped state law. This situation involving pot is like a green rebellion that was indulged by Obama, probably part of his agenda to wreak havoc in his quest to “transform” America.

We are doing everything backward and this cannot become a pattern without creating true anarchy.

Either we limit the reach of the federal government as the founders intended or states respect their boundaries and we follow mechanisms in the constitution to change laws.

It would be nice to have the world make sense again, wouldn’t it?

— RaeLynn Ricarte

As a boy I spent much of my free time exploring the creeks around my home — surprisingly wild tributaries of the Willamette River — as a young naturalist and later as a would-be nature photographer.

I found a great many things to marvel at, following the racoon tracks up and down the muddy banks, crossing on the stick-built beaver lodges and catching crawfish in the pools.

Although the creeks were bounded by roads with a full complement of homes, I found very little evidence that anyone other than myself explored these wild places.

With one exception.

I well remember the first marijuana grow I stumbled across: It stood out, a large rectangle of cleared ground with four or five rows of plants about twelve inches high, all of them dead.

I was puzzled at first, it seemed an odd place for a garden, hidden away in a tiny clearing among the trees and swamp grass.

Closer inspection revealed the plants to be marijuana starts: The shape of the leaves was distinctive, and you could find graphic representations everywhere you went.

At school, I’d already seen “educational” videos intended, I suppose, to warn us away from illegal drugs but which served pretty well as impromptu user guides and I recognized not just the plants but the paraphernalia nearby.

But why were the plants dead? Eventually I decided that the little garden plot had been discovered and sprayed with some type of herbicide.

The realization raised the hair on the back of my neck: What if I were discovered here, by the grower or the sprayer?

Over the years, I often came across similar grows, although none so obvious as the first.

For the most part, these illicit “gardens” took the form of single plants dispersed about the wild areas, tucked here and there out of sight.

There were a surprisingly large number of them, some of them with dozens of plants scattered over a acres.

Fortunately, I never came across a grower or a member of law enforcement in my youthful explorations.

I also managed to avoid being a part of the drug culture, despite its prevalence.

As an adult, my work in newspaper journalism has kept me in touch with the drug war.

One of my early jobs was as a general news reporter for my hometown, and one of my weekly tasks was gathering the police reports each week.

My youthful discovery that there was a lot of pot growing in Oregon’s wild little nooks and crannies was found to be quite true, and drug arrests were common.

I remember two log entries quite well: In one, a car full of teenagers was pulled over in town for a vehicle infraction — no taillight or some such thing — and the driver was asked to step out of the vehicle.

When he opened the door, “a large bag of marijuana fell out of the door onto the street,” right at the officer’s feet.

What was memorable was not how stupid a teenager could be, but that this particular teenager was my brother.

The second report I recall well took place on a winter night, when a known drug dealer was spotted and chased down Interstate 5 to one of the exits in town.

The suspect “drove his vehicle into the ‘onion flats,’” — a large swamp with chest-deep water I explored as boy — and “fled on foot” into the water.

I wasn’t surprised they lost him at that point. And I wasn’t surprised that the suspect was my cousin.

I asked him about it that spring, he said he had to swim a pretty good distance and yes, it was cold.

Drugs and the drug war eventually claimed them both: One ended up in jail, the other dead.

With legalization, grows have moved to backyards, and growers and police have turned their eyes elsewhere. That, at least, is a good thing.

— Mark Gibson


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