An unnecessary war on marijuana

Published 8:33 pm Tuesday, January 9, 2018

“Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting,” Sun Tzu said.

Winning is therefore only relevant if battle was inevitable. Fighting unnecessary wars always leads to eventual defeat of even the most skilled commander.

Before I begin, I want to be clear that I am not a “marijuana advocate” or asking people to go out and smoke pot. However, if a man across town wants to smoke, I am totally fine with his choice.  I suppose this view originates from my belief that states should have as much sovereignty and control over their own affairs as possible. What is acceptable in Alabama may not be acceptable in Connecticut. Also, in almost 15 years, I have handled a number of cases where alcohol was involved and someone got hurt.  I have also handled many marijuana cases during that time. Do you know how many people in marijuana cases got hurt? Zero.

The social stigma surrounding marijuana is the source of its controversy.

As many of you know, I voted for President Trump, would do it again if faced with the alternative, and hold strong conservative and libertarian beliefs.

But, I cannot excuse terrible decision making by members of my party, nor fail to give credit to Democrats when they do the right thing.

Today, there is a common belief that states that have legalized marijuana use for recreational or medicinal purposes are abiding by the law. But, that is not entirely true. Colorado and California are best known for having legalized the drug for recreational purposes. Also, other states that permit the regulated sale of marijuana for recreational use include Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Nevada. Massachusetts and Maine are on track to do so this year.

But, it is still unlawful to possess marijuana in all fifty states pursuant to federal law.

However, with states beginning to defy federal law, former President Obama’s administration discouraged federal prosecutors from pursuing marijuana-related criminal cases in states that had legalized the drug. The federal government does not have unlimited resources. The U.S. Justice Department must choose which laws to focus on in order to protect Americans. This policy made sense because vital law enforcement resources could be used elsewhere. (Although I am unsure if these resources were actually reallocated).

Unfortunately, last week, the Justice Department chose to rescind the policy and gave federal prosecutors wide latitude to pursue criminal charges.

The action by Attorney General Jeff Sessions was a very poor decision. While I admire his tenacity, courage and support most of his decisions, the blame for this defeat will be squarely placed on his shoulders by the administration, particularly by the president, who has not shown the ability to take responsibility himself for anything.

Justice Department officials declined to say whether they might take legal action against those states, saying further steps were “still under consideration.” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump’s top priority was enforcing federal law “whether it’s marijuana or immigration.”

However, the damage has already been done. Uncertainty is as damaging as the full implementation of the new policy. Here is why:

The administration’s action drew condemnation from not only Democrat leaders, but Republicans as well. Upsetting allies in Congress during a mid-term election year is a recipe for disaster. Based on historical data, the President will suffer a net Republican loss in November. The timing of this unnecessary aggression can only put his Congressional friends in a tighter bind as they fight to get elected.   

The move raises questions about how it might impact tax revenues in states that permit some form of legal marijuana use. It also creates uncertainty for banks, already fearful about business relationships with the marijuana industry because of concerns they might run afoul of anti-money laundering rules.

At least one Republican Senator has mentioned that he, and other Republicans, may interfere with the confirmation of President Trump’s judicial nominees. Now, our country becomes embroiled in an unnecessary battle that will decrease tax revenues and disrupt an already bitterly divided Congress.

Unlike government in general, venture capitalists grow the economy. Because of the new policy, these capitalists are already losing money that could have been used for jobs, economic growth, and a tremendous amount of tax revenue as we saw in Colorado.   

Many leaders over the past 2000 years have ignored the advice of Sun Tzu at their own peril.  Just as Lee at Gettysburg, Rommel in Algeria and Westmoreland during the Tet Offensive, we have another example of the consequences of ignoring the teachings in Art of War.

This battle was not inevitable.  It was completely unnecessary. This battle has already been lost by its commanders.

Jason W. Swindle Sr. is a Senior Partner and Criminal Defense Attorney at Swindle Law Group in Carrollton.