Washington needs to legalize cannabis

Voters in four states may relax the rules Tuesday, bringing the total to 32.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, John Boehner

Citizens in four states vote Tuesday on ballot initiatives to legalize some form of cannabis. Residents of Missouri and Utah will decide on its medical availability, Michigan and North Dakota on recreational consumption for adults. If all four measures pass, the tally of states that allow some sort of cannabis use will jump to 32, nearly two-thirds of the U.S.

The trend could not be clearer: Cannabis prohibition is coming to an end. A Gallup poll last month found 66% of Americans favor legal marijuana.

I am now one of those Americans. It began when a friend of mine who suffered from chronic back pain found relief using medical cannabis. Intrigued, I looked deeper into the uses of marijuana. I learned that in April the Food and Drug Administration approved medication called Epidiolex, which can reduce the number of seizures epileptic children have to endure. It contains only nonpsychoactive components of cannabis plants.

Marijuana is helping people across the country. Since joining the board of cannabis operator Acreage Holdings this past spring, I’ve spoken with countless senior citizens, baby boomers and millennials about their experiences medicating with cannabis to thwart the rigors of chemotherapy, ease muscle pain, relieve anxiety and much more. Convinced as I am by mounting scientific and anecdotal evidence, what resonates most with me is that one by one, our states have spoken.

 Until cannabis is legalized federally, Washington needs to respect states’ rights to regulate it within their borders. The 10th Amendment clearly protects states’ prerogative to do so, and we must not allow the federal nanny state to dictate otherwise. The bipartisan Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act, introduced in the House and Senate in June, is a step in the right direction. It would let states make their own decisions about the possession, manufacture and sale of cannabis, without federal interference.

The Drug Enforcement Administration must also soon stop classifying marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic, the same category as heroin. This status prevents many federally funded research institutions from studying how cannabis could treat sick Americans. It keeps major banks from investing in an industry that could create 654,000 jobs if marijuana were legalized in all 50 states today, according to a study from New Frontier Data. And most cruelly, the Schedule 1 classification prevents veterans from gaining access to medical marijuana.

Because cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, hospitals run by the Department of Veterans Affairs cannot treat service members suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder or chronic pain with any form of medical marijuana. Instead, VA doctors prescribe various opioids, fueling a crisis that killed 42,000 Americans in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since leaving public office, I’ve become convinced that cannabis reform is needed so we can do research, help our veterans and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities.

As a congressman, I learned that government works best when it listens to its constituents. Representatives must use what the people tell them to question constantly which policies are serving the greater good. It’s past time for government to rethink how it approaches cannabis.

Mr. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, served as a U.S. representative (1991-2015) and House speaker (2011-15).

In the newsJennifer Park