Back in 2006, then-U.S. Attorney for Western Washington John McKay appeared on 60 Minutes to defend his attempts to arrest and extradite Canadian marijuana seed seller Marc Emery. McKay argued that Emery was a drug kingpin and a threat to Americans. Four years later, Emery ended up in an American prison.
But after being pushed out by the Bush Administration later that year, McKay has had an interesting change of heart about our drug policies in the years since then. And in a guest column Friday in the Mommy Journal, he expands on his newfound enlightenment:
As Emery’s prosecutor and a former federal law-enforcement official, however, I’m not afraid to say out loud what most of my former colleagues know is true: Our marijuana policy is dangerous and wrong and should be changed through the legislative process to better protect the public safety.
Congress has failed to recognize what many already know about our policy of criminal prohibition of marijuana — it has utterly failed. Listed by the U.S. government as a “Schedule One” drug alongside heroin, the demand for marijuana in this country for decades has outpaced the ability of law enforcement to eliminate it. Perhaps this is because millions of Americans smoke pot regularly and international drug cartels, violent gangs and street pushers work hard to reap the profits.
Law-enforcement agencies are simply not capable of interdicting all of this pot and despite some successes have not succeeded in thwarting criminals who traffic and sell marijuana. Brave agents and cops continue to risk their lives in a futile attempt to enforce misguided laws that do not match the realities of our society.
I applaud McKay for speaking out on this now, and I hope that this does move the ball forward. He’s right to point out that many in law enforcement know exactly what he’s saying is true, but are afraid to say so publicly. Part of it may be that they fear having their professional hypocrisies exposed. McKay clearly doesn’t, and it would be pointless for me to harp on that – other than to encourage him to request a pardon for Emery, who was very far from the “drug kingpin” McKay accused him of being.
But one other thing did stick out to me. McKay’s column is dripping with his still-lingering contempt for those who actually do use marijuana. He calls them “idiots”, and despite even acknowledging that it can have medical benefits for some, he still thinks that it’s “dumb” to want it. I think this also plays a large role in why so many in law enforcement cling to this outdated policy. There’s still a strong element of contempt for those who drive the market.
Over the years, marijuana use has gone from being representative of counter-culture rebellion to being far more mainstream. Most of the people I know who use marijuana are regular folks who enjoy it the way many people enjoy a glass of scotch or a microbrew, but the idea of it being part of some sort of reckless rebellion still lingers. Even for those who’ve seen the light on what this devastating policy has done to our country, there’s still a blind spot to the fact that for a lot of people, it’s not by default a “dumb” thing to do.