View From Away: Back Off States With Legal Pot — And End Prohibition

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Washington and other states with legal marijuana laws need clarity from the federal government.

In a break from his attorney general, President Donald Trump now appears ready to provide it. On Friday, the president said he “probably will end up supporting” a bill in Congress to keep the federal government from interfering in states with legal pot laws.

The development is promising. But what really matters is whether Trump follows through. The president must not leave legal marijuana states yo-yoing between his vague words of support and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ marijuana-averse statements and policies.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachussetts, and Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, are co-sponsoring the new legislation, which would prevent the Department of Justice from prosecuting state-licensed marijuana businesses and their customers.

The bill’s passage would be good news for Washington state, which is home to about 2,000 licensed marijuana businesses, including about 550 retail stores. The growing legal pot industry brings more than $350 million in tax money to the state’s coffers each year.

Eight other states have also legalized marijuana for recreational use, while an additional 20 have approved the use of medical marijuana.

People in these states have sent a clear message that they want to move away from a failed era of marijuana prohibition, which has diverted law-enforcement resources away from other pressing issues while causing the disproportionate arrests of African Americans. The dubious legacy of the war on drugs is not one these states want to continue.

With that in mind, Trump’s instinct to override Sessions’ outdated opposition to legalized marijuana is a good one. At a minimum, Trump should use his presidential influence to help push the Gardner-Warren bill through Congress.

Ideally, though, Congress should go even further by ending marijuana’s prohibition nationwide. Time has made it clear that marijuana does not belong on the list of banned Schedule I drugs, which includes heroin and other highly addictive substances with no accepted medical use. More than 60 percent of Americans now support legalizing cannabis. Rescheduling marijuana would also make it easier to research the drug’s medical uses and benefits, important work that has been stymied.

Trump should lend his support to the broader legalization effort as well.

Law-enforcement resources would be much better spent combating the opioid epidemic, a scourge that claims hundreds of lives in Washington state each year, than continuing a losing battle against pot.