By Marissa Cohen
Mother Jones, an American magazine that is heavily focused on politics, has studied mass shootings since the 1980s. Cato Institute, a liberal think tank, has analyzed Mother Jones’s finding to see that, since the Trump administration has been in power, the frequency of these attacks has spiked exponentially. The Cato Institute approximates there were 16 mass shooting incidents from 2006-2016. Yet, in just the past few years of Trump’s presidency, there has been a drastic increase in shootings, resulting in 202 fatalities and 33 violent mass shootings, all of which were unrelated to gangs, drugs, or domestic violence. The country stands unsteady in the wake of the Odessa, Texas shooting. I recall when I moved to Las Vegas in 2016 and decided to drive around the entire country. I had a good friend from undergrad who lived in Odessa; in order to break up the pilgrimage across Texas, I stayed with her. Odessa is a town with perhaps six businesses, five of which were the targets of the aimless attacks. The day of the shooting resulted in eight people losing their lives, and twenty-five people being injured.
Odessa happened far too recently for the story to be already destitute in the news. Rather, the newest breaking news story, which has taken immense priority over gun control, is the story of the six people who have died from an ‘alleged’ connection to cannabis oil vaporizers.
Within Labor Day Weekend, there was a mass shooting resulting in eight deaths, including the perpetrator, as well as one singular death regarding cannabis. In response to the events that occurred that week, the Trump administration side-stepped any responsibility in regards to gun control to subsequently crack down hard on the cannabis industry.
The attacks on the cannabis industry began with the opinion of the Surgeon General. A public statement, which had not been substantiated by any scientific studies, found spotlight from numerous publications, including The New York Post. Despite several studies from other nations presenting direct contradictions to the Surgeon General’s condemning statements on the subject of pregnancy and cannabis use, the Surgeon General’s opinion was given great support, partly due to his featured fear-inducing language. By targeting a vulnerable group, pregnant women, and a valued group, mothers, the Surgeon General effectively sent the message “Cannabis is Dangerous.” After the Surgeon General’s statement was out, cannabis became a punching bag, a scapegoat to create smoke to real danger.
The first vape death was reported in late August, and five more people have suffered the same fate since. In the process of writing this piece, Duane Morris LLP, a large firm which does immense work in cannabis law, sent out a blast email regarding the FDC’s nationwide warning against the use of cannabis oils. Not only is that a tremendous step for the nation, despite lack of substantiated scientific information to back up any of the assertions, but the federal government is suddenly so interested in saving lives. Why are they choosing to ban a product which has allegedly killed six people over the product which caused hundreds of people to lose their lives in the Vegas massacre?
It is undoubtedly a political ploy, a strategic move to delay the advancement of the cannabis industry and the people who support it. As the social climate began to shift into accepting cannabis in the last decade, both as a medicine and a substance safe for adult use, the federal government had to bite its tongue as the liberal states in the nation chose to enact cannabis-use laws, precluding the federal government from any of the financial benefits. If one speaks to anybody on the street about the cannabis industry, from the pizza man to an attorney, all will say that cannabis’ time is coming; the train is unstoppable. Cannabis legalization is a large campaign promise of Bernie Sanders and other Democratic front-runners, meaning the unstoppable train of cannabis has passengers who are Trump’s opponents.
However, now, we are in the midst of the revived Green Scare. It will start with vaporizers, and, slowly, the scope will become bigger. Demonizing cannabis is a brilliant strategy to scare young people; this could lead to some seeing Trump’s administration as saving them from the terrible cannabis juices. With the growing fear placed in these young adults, coupled with the constant push for more guns in the hands of individuals, the younger generations are being lead to put down their vapes and pick up assault weapons.
Adults will see these vape warnings as a stop to a trend the older generations have not supported. Similar to how Nixon and Reagan really dug their heels into avoiding other subjects and instead blaming it on cannabis, the Trump administration would rather provide teachers guns than create gun reform that will stop hundreds, if not thousands, of people from dying; but, clearly, six deaths allegedly related to THC oil is a national emergency.
The threat of the oils is not to be diminished, but the incongruency of this administration’s treatment of these tragedies is clear. Trump was far more eloquent in speaking of vape juice than responding to the racist tragedy in South Carolina, not to mention that the cannabis laws themselves are inherently racist. John Dean, the past Attorney General for the Nixon Administration, has been quoted saying Nixon made cannabis a schedule 1 drug not because it was dangerous or met the three qualifications of a schedule 1 substance. The requirements to be a schedule 1 substance are, first, that the substance is too dangerous to be studied, second, that the substance has zero medicinal benefits, and finally, that the substance is highly addictive. Nixon knew scheduling cannabis as a schedule 1 substance would be a creative way to get around Constitutional preclusions and create an inherently racist law because he knew that the general public would associate drugs with black people. John Dean said and I quote, “We knew this was a racist law. But we knew it wouldn’t be challenged.”
Hate rhetoric is the bread and butter of the Trump administration; it is no surprise that it is time cannabis’ turn to become the target. In passing the Farm Bill, Trump almost seemed to favor the expansion of cannabis. But as election time comes closer, it is evident that Trump is not interested in gaining new voters, or cannabis users as voters, but rather stay perfectly on pitch with his racist base. Middle Americans who brush off mass shootings would rather everyone have guns than lose their access to guns. That demographic and form of Trump supporter is deaf to the need for gun reform. But reefer killing people feeds the fire that divides these already divided groups.
Marissa is a law student at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University. Prior to law school, Marissa managed the first cannabis dispensary on the Las Vegas Strip. Since moving back East, Marissa has taken an active role in cannabis law and education; she drafts various CLE presentations for numerous bar associations, is a student editor for Cannabis Law Digest, and Emcee’ed the Medicinal Track of the International Cannabis Science Conference. Marissa continuously proves she is a valued cannabis educator.