Of his time before his road-to-Damascus conversion, the apostle Paul said “he was the worst of sinners.” Before becoming a Christian, he persecuted them.
There have been a couple of equally unlikely “road to Damascus” incidents in recent days.
Former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, who as recently as 2015 was “unalterably opposed” to legalizing marijuana, is now an advisory board member of Acreage Holdings, which grows and sells marijuana in 11 states where doing so is legal under state law.
“I’m joining the board of #AcreageHoldings because my thinking on cannabis has evolved,” Boehner announced via Twitter. “I’m convinced de-scheduling the drug is needed so we can do research, help our veterans, and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities.”
Where once the Republican from Ohio was blind, now he can see, and he’s not the only high-profile politician to experience a sudden change of heart.
Far more consequential, because he is still in office, is U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Schumer has spent most of his political career trying to ban things. In 2010, he led the charge to ban caffeinated alcoholic drinks such as Four Loko. In 2015, he crusaded against a powdered alcohol product. Schumer also has a hard-earned reputation for seeking publicity and knowing which way the winds are blowing. If you see Schumer in front of a cause, you know he saw it coming down the street and cut to the front of the line.
Last week, Schumer made his announcement via Twitter: “It’s official. Today, I am formally announcing my plan to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.”
Schumer says he was moved to act by two stats: “2/3 of Americans believe marijuana should be legalized, meanwhile more than half of all drug arrests in the United States are marijuana arrests.”
There is also a racial component. According to the data Schumer cites from the American Civil Liberties Union, “Despite roughly equal usage rates, blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.” This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, especially given the history of the nation’s war on pot.
No doubt, Schumer sees a winning issue for Democrats. A CBS poll found support for leaving marijuana laws to the states cuts across party lines, although it’s favored more by Democrats than by Republicans.
There are compelling reasons to leave marijuana to the states. First, it puts an end to the legal confusion arising because of the conflict between federal law and the law in the states that have legalized pot for recreational or medical use. Second, taking marijuana off the schedule of controlled substances will more readily enable research into its medical benefits. A Food and Drug Administration panel last week recommended non-psychoactive cannabidiol, a cannabis derivative, for treating some childhood seizures. It was only after much wailing and gnashing of teeth that the Alabama Legislature in 2016 passed Leni’s Law, allowing the use of cannabidiol under tightly regulated conditions.
The current state of affairs breeds confusion, with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wanting to crack down on states where marijuana is legal and President Donald Trump flip-flopping, most recently coming down in favor of leaving it to the states.
Perhaps we should be cynical. Boehner changed his mind when safely out of office and now stands ready to profit off a product others are in prison for selling. Schumer looked at the polls and saw a chance to appeal to younger voters ahead of the midterm elections, with control of Congress — and a potential majority for Schumer to command — in the balance. Yes, cynicism seems warranted.
But in the spirit of Christian charity, we won’t go there. Instead, we shall say what should be said to those who have had their eyes opened on the road: Go and sin no more.