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Team Trump tries to push back the clock against legal pot

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

An ill-advised order by Attorney General Jeff Sessions' makes federal marijuana prosecutions easier in states that have legalized it. It reminds me of H.L. Mencken's famous definition of Puritanism: "The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."

What other reason could President Donald Trump's attorney general have for interrupting the orderly process undertaken by various states over the past two decades to decide marijuana laws for themselves?

Marijuana already was illegal under federal law, but Sessions' order revokes guidance by the Department of Justice under President Barack Obama that discouraged federal law enforcement in states where pot was legal.

Since California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes in 1996, we now have 29 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized medical use of cannabis and eight that allow recreational use.

Legal pot is rapidly losing its earlier stigma -- but not with Sessions, a long-standing anti-weed zealot. The former Alabama senator and federal prosecutor once joked, according to Senate testimony by a former colleague, that the Ku Klux Klan was "OK, until he learned that they smoked marijuana."

Sessions denies that he's a racist, but, whether he pays attention or not, the federal marijuana law he desires so zealously to enforce has decidedly racist roots and a racially skewed impact.

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The federal government did not regulate marijuana until Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937 at the urging of Harry J. Anslinger, who became the first commissioner of the new Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930. Formerly an assistant commissioner of Treasury's Bureau of Prohibition, Anslinger turned to crusading against drugs, particularly marijuana.

Aided by newspaper giant William Randolph Hearst, Anslinger promoted the notion that Mexican immigrants and black jazz musicians (Singer Billie Holiday became "public enemy No. 1" in his trumped-up pursuit) were behind a national movement to undermine America with pot.

It was the era that produced "Reefer Madness," the 1930s propaganda film that has since become a laughable midnight movie classic with its depiction of people driven insane after only a puff or two of the demon weed.

Today's federal drug laws are rooted in the 1970 Controlled Substances Act under President Richard Nixon. It put marijuana in "Schedule 1," the most restrictive category, along with heroin and LSD, drugs that the federal government deemed as having no valid medical uses and a high potential for abuse.

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(c) 2018 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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