Like any politician these days, Senator Claire McCaskill wants to talk about jobs, the economy, and how she can create more jobs and a better economy. But during her town-hall meetings across Missouri this week, McCaskill was bombarded with questions about marijuana legalization -- and she's really surprised about that.
Fortunately, that didn't stop people from asking McCaskill about marijuana reform, including whether rape survivors and war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder should be allowed to medicate with marijuana instead of powerful pharmaceutical painkillers.
During a town hall in Kansas City on Wednesday, the Democratic senator expressed her amazement over how many questions she was asked about marijuana-law reform:
"I've been totally taken aback by the number of questions and comments that have come up in a number of town hall meetings about the legalization of marijuana. I didn't expect that. There has been, frankly, more on that topic in town halls than any other topics so far, which is fascinating to me."
McCaskill's alleged "fascination" over citizens' concerns about marijuana prohibition -- which costs Missourians millions in taxpayer dollars each year, deprives people of an inexpensive and otherwise accessible medication and puts people in prison and jails on a daily basis (including a man who's been in prison for twenty years, serving a life without parole sentence) -- wasn't enough for the former prosecutor to immediately change the subject to "jobs" and "the economy."
"I would like to spend a few minutes before I start answering your questions to talk about our economy, to talk about an idea I'm working on in a bipartisan way to see if we can't jump-start more jobs," McCaskill said after preemptively brushing aside marijuana-reform concerns and proceeding to pull written questions out of a hat.
But McCaskill still had to answer at least one cannabis question Wednesday.
"Do you believe that rape victims and war veterans that use medical cannabis to alleviate PTSD in Missouri should be incarcerated alongside rapists, murderers and other violent criminals?" read a written question from Amber Iris Langston, a board member of Show-Me Cannabis..
Click on the next page to see McCaskill's response...
"Well, obviously not. I do not want them to be," McCaskill answered. "But I gotta tell you, I would love to find somebody in Missouri who has been imprisoned for just smoking pot. I know in Kansas City, even a long time ago, we were not interested in the prosecutor's office in pursuing low-level pot cases."
McCaskill seems to be unaware that people in Missouri are arrested all the time for small amounts of marijuana.
One can be arrested for any amount of marijuana in the state. Having fewer than 35 grams is only a misdemeanor, but one can still be arrested for it. In fact, this past weekend four Mizzou athletes were arrested and put in jail for having fewer than 35 grams of marijuana.
Missouri had about marijuana 20,000 arrests in 2011, and 91 percent of those were for possession, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. In St. Louis, black people are eighteen times more likely to be arrested than white people.
And these "low-level" arrests have greater impacts that just getting one's weed taken away and having to sit in a cell for a few hours. Often, people at least do time until they get bailed out, which usually depends on how much money that person has. Sometimes it can be months.
In her town-hall answer, Senator McCaskill replied that, as a prosecutor in Jackson County, she didn't pursue "low-level pot cases."
Not only is that false, but she endorsed charging poor people to continue prohibitionist policies. As a prosecutor in Jackson County, McCaskill was an extreme proponent of the anti-drug sales tax, which was a regressive tax that had the greatest negative impact on poor people (because they are the ones most impacted by sales tax). Some monies went to treatment, but most of it went to increasing prosecutor salaries, increasing law-enforcement's budget and imprisoning people, including marijuana.
Despite the tax being unpopular, McCaskill tried hard to get people behind the anti-drug tax. According to a Harvard study that is very favorable of the senator: "in a conscious effort to draw attention to and revitalize the drug tax program, McCaskill had renamed it COMBAT, the Community-Backed Anti-Drug Tax, and developed a new logo."
Here's the rest of McCaskills' answer to Amber Iris Langston regarding using marijuana for treatment of PTSD for rape victims and war veterans:
"Now, having said that, should we legalize pot? Or should we do some kind of iteration of medical marijuana? I think we've got a great opportunity to see what happens in Colorado where they have legalized it on a state basis. I'm talking to my colleagues out there about how's it going and I'll be honest with you - they are expressing some buyer's remorse as to some of the problems that maybe weren't anticipated. So I think we should go carefully on this and ultimately I think the lead on this should be not on the federal government but on the state level. But I will say this: I think the medication involving PTSD, we are doing some oversight on that right now because one of the problems we've had in the military is PTSD has been treated by too many psychotropic and pharmacological solutions. Too many drugs have been prescribed and when somebody is really struggling with that disease, sometimes too many drugs are gonna have the opposite impact that you're really looking for and that is a holistic sense that you're safe, you can contribute and becoming dependent on some of those drugs is not the best idea, either."
McCaskill might be a Democrat, but on marijuana policy, she uses the strategy Republicans use on same-sex marriage: Instead of taking a stand and fighting for what's right on the federal level, she cops out by saying "let's leave it up to the states." She also ignores the fact that even the federal government is looking at marijuana for PTSD victims.
Coming from a prosecutor-turned-senator who gets praised for passing a military sexual-assault bill, it might seem like McCaskill would at least say what she really thinks when it comes to rape victims. But then again, she blocked a bill that would have allowed military-rape victims to get their case heard in a civilian court rather than a military tribunal, where many critics -- including New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand -- say it's difficult to get justice.
McCaskill voted against the bill and instead advocated for taking that pesky civilian court part out. The result was an easily pushed-through bill that still allowed the military full discretion over its own sex-crime allegations.
So maybe it shouldn't be too surprising McCaskill takes a "wait and see" approach when it comes to allowing rape and PTSD victims the medication of their choice: Such a stance wouldn't be so easy to pass a roomful of politicians.
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