On Sunday night’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the HBO host spent most of his show going over the federal government’s ignorance and hypocrisy on marijuana laws, while highlighting some of the real people who have been deeply hurt by them.
To start out, he mentioned how 4 more states legalized weed on election day, but emphasized that it’s not appropriate to celebrate those victories too much considering what else happened that day. He also mentioned how support for legalization has hit 60% in the latest Gallup poll (it was 12% in 1969), before giving a brief history lesson on how Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, which classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug with less medical benefit than cocaine and methamphetamine.
Oliver played an audio clip of Nixon exposing his racism and stupidity on the topic, but there’s a quote from Nixon’s domestic policy advisor, John Ehrlichman, which is also extremely telling:
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
I believe that quote speaks for itself.
Oliver then spoke about how legal marijuana businesses have been forced to operate cash-only because of conflicts with federal law, explaining how they even pay their federal taxes in cash. However, they’re not allowed to deduct certain expenses that other legal businesses are able to deduct, meaning they can end up paying twice as much as they should be paying.
He then explored how medical marijuana patients have been losing their jobs and even having their children taken by the state simply because they’re growing and using the medicine they need. Oliver told the story of Brandon Coats, who’s been paralyzed since he was in a car accident as a teenager. Coats had a valid Colorado medical marijuana card, but was fired from Dish Network after failing a drug test. Oliver explained how this makes no sense:
“It’s frankly understandable that he thought he was doing nothing wrong. The state had given him a license to use medical marijuana legally, and yet he got fired anyway. And also, he couldn’t turn to the Americans with Disabilities Act for help, because that is a federal law and it doesn’t protect marijuana use.”
A story of Michigan parents who both happened to be medical marijuana patients was highlighted next. In 2013, Steve and Maria Green were forced to endure a 6-week battle with Michigan’s Department of Human Services to regain custody of their 6-month old daughter Bree, simply because they were growing marijuana plants safely in their home which Michigan law allowed for medical use. As John Oliver said, it’s “completely absurd.”
Oliver then showcased how difficult it is to study marijuana, with some researchers waiting years to clear all the hurdles currently necessary to get approval. Further, he explained how you can only get the marijuana you use for any federally approved study from a guy at the University of Mississippi. What Oliver failed to mention is that, at least some of the time, the marijuana you get from them is trash. Via PBS:
Sue Sisley, a primary care physician in Scottsdale, Arizona, recalls the moment she picked up the carefully wrapped package fresh from the delivery truck. Nearly two years after Sisley and her colleagues were awarded a grant to study marijuana as a treatment for 76 military veterans suffering from chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, her shipment of the drug was finally in hand.
But minutes later, as she opened the packets to weigh the drug – as required by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration – her enthusiasm turned to dismay. It didn’t look like marijuana. Most of it looked like green talcum powder.
“It didn’t resemble cannabis. It didn’t smell like cannabis,” Sisley says. What’s more, laboratory testing found that some of the samples were contaminated with mold, while others didn’t match the chemical potency Sisley had requested for the study.
Oliver then aired a clip of Vietnam vet Danny Belcher speaking vividly about how marijuana treats his PTSD, allowing him to wake up in the morning and go about his business like he should be able to do. Belcher has long been an outspoken advocate of allowing marijuana for vets as an alternative to opioids, but yet people like Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin and Senator Mitch McConnell couldn’t seem to care less about how this issue is affecting communities.
As Oliver explained, Kentucky has a medical marijuana law on the books, but it requires a written prescription, which is technically illegal under federal law. Many states get around this by allowing for a written recommendation as opposed to an actual prescription, but Kentucky does not. Furthermore, as Oliver said:
“Even if Kentucky’s law did that, if Danny went to his doctors at the VA, they couldn’t give him anything because they’re a federal hospital and federal policy prohibits VA doctors from even recommending marijuana regardless of the state law, and regardless of their medical opinion.”
Oliver then dissected exactly how ridiculous Kentucky’s medical marijuana law really is, touching on how the law didn’t set up any way for marijuana to be legally distributed in the state. “The point is, if you live in Kentucky, despite there being a law that ostensibly gives access to medical marijuana, there’s virtually no legal way for you to get it,” he said.
Toward the end of the segment, Oliver exposed how utterly clueless Attorney General Jeff Sessions is on the topic of marijuana, while pointing out that there’s now a bipartisan Cannabis Caucus in DC pushing for reform.
As Oliver said, “If even an 83-year-old Republican from Alaska has come around on this issue, then it’s probably time for our laws to catch up.”
Watch the excellent segment below via HBO:
Be sure to check out his archives on Forward Progressives for more of his viewpoints.