John Oliver Takes On Marijuana Laws

By Kelly Burch 04/05/17

“Marijuana is a Schedule I drug the way a hedgehog is an apex predator.”

John Oliver
Photo via YouTube

Comedian John Oliver took on marijuana laws on Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight—pointing out the ways that discrepancies between state and federal laws have dramatic effects on people's lives. 

“Marijuana is a Schedule I drug the way a hedgehog is an apex predator,” Oliver said, pointing out that marijuana and heroin share the Schedule I classification, while drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine are classified as the less dangerous Schedule II. 

While pot remains banned at the federal level, 28 states now have a medical marijuana law, and seven states have legalized recreational use. 

“That was one bright spot on election night,” Oliver said, referencing the states that eased marijuana restrictions last November. However, the federal ban can still lead to people being prosecuted or other consequences for using marijuana, even if it is legal in their states. 

“That’s not your weed-induced paranoia talking,” Oliver said. “This story is genuinely worth worrying about.”

Oliver pointed out the case of Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who was fired from his job at Dish Network for using medical marijuana in the state of Colorado. People like Coats are not protected under the federal Americans With Disabilities Act, because invoking it would mean the case would fall under federal law, which bars any use of marijuana. 

The federal ban means that it is illegal for doctors to write a prescription for marijuana, and is especially problematic for veterans dealing with the VA, since the agency follows federal law. Oliver featured a veteran who uses marijuana to control his PTSD. He testified that pot helps him without side effects, allowing him to once again run in the mornings and volunteer with fellow veterans.

“For all the talk you hear of marijuana being a gateway drug, in his case that gateway led to peaceful sleep, rigorous exercise, and community service,” Oliver said.

In other cases, parents have faced custody issues because of their use of medical cannabis. Oliver highlighted Maria Green, who had her infant daughter removed from her house because her husband treats his epilepsy with medical marijuana.

The consequences of the federal law also affect businesses that sell marijuana in states where it is legal. Many business are unable to use banks because of the federal ban on marijuana. Marijuana operations are required to file federal taxes, but are unable to take business deductions. 

“You could end up with a tax bill that is far more than any potential profit that you could make,” Blazenow CEO Jeremy Carr told CNBC in a clip that Oliver played. Because of this, Oliver pointed out, marijuana businesses can end up paying double the amount of tax.

While opponents of marijuana legalization, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, say that the health effects of marijuana need further study, Oliver pointed out that the Schedule I classification means getting approval to research marijuana is a long process. 

Oliver pointed out the complications of changed marijuana laws, which have resulted in the incarceration of countless Americans since the 1970s. He also highlighted the racist origins of marijuana prohibition, playing a recording of President Richard Nixon from 1971. After making remarks about Jews being in favor of marijuana legalization, Nixon said, “By God we are going to hit the marijuana thing, and I want to hit it right square in the puss.”

While the Trump administration has hinted that it will increase enforcement for the ban on marijuana, Oliver ended on a positive note, pointing out that for the first time ever there is now a bipartisan cannabis caucus in Congress. 

“If even an 83-year-old Republican from Alaska has come around on this issue then its probably time for our laws to catch up,” Oliver said. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.