Marijuana advocates got yet another ally this month when John Oliver, host of the HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” devoted a long section of his show to pointing out the complications involving federal marijuana laws and calling for change.
The show, which aired the first weekend of the month, has been a hit on social media. That’s nothing new for Oliver, who is considered must-see television for those whose politics are left of center. Just days after it aired, the video already had more than four million views on You Tube.
“The legality of marijuana is much more fraught than you might think. In fact, if you have marijuana right now, even if you are acting completely legally according to your state, you might still be in serious jeopardy,” Oliver said.
He went on to cite federal laws that still list marijuana as a Schedule I dangerous drug – as dangerous as heroin.
“Marijuana is not a Schedule I any more than a hedgehog is an apex predator,” the comedian said.
John Oliver: Backlash Against Trump
Oliver’s comments are noteworthy because of his popularity, particularly with millennials, and also the fact he is joining a list of high-profile personalities who have questioned President Donald Trump’s approach to marijuana laws.
Most of the concern centers on the man Trump picked as attorney general, Jeff Sessions. The former Alabama senator has not hidden his dislike of states legalizing marijuana and has suggested he may enforce federal law. Exactly how that would work remains unknown, but the vague threats have been enough to concern those involved in the marijuana industry.
Oliver pointed out that the federal rules impede marijuana businesses from getting banking services and also can result in legal marijuana businesses paying far higher taxes because they cannot deduct expenses.
He also noted that cannabis has “gained increasing acceptance in recent years” with the American people, even as Trump seems to want to move back toward making it illegal, at least in the case of recreational marijuana.
He also aired clips featuring people who have used medical marijuana and found it effective, as well as one who got fired for doing so.
“Our federal laws desperately need to be brought up to date,” he said.
Others Also Show Support
Bill Maher, who also hosts a show on HBO, has long been an advocate for marijuana. In fact, in the same weekend Oliver took on the issue, Maher had a cake decorated with a marijuana leaf to celebrate his 420th show. He has vocally opposed any crackdown on states who have legalized marijuana and has called for changes at the federal level.
Others celebrities who have endorsed marijuana legalization, either for medical and recreational use (or both), include Whoopi Goldberg, Susan Sarandon, Rihanna and Rick Steves (the host of the popular PBS travel show).
Sports figures have joined the chorus calling for changes, at least in sports league policies toward marijuana use. Legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson has said the NBA needs to consider changes to league policy regarding use of marijuana as a pain management drug because of its wide use among players. Both Jackson and Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr have said they tried marijuana during their time as players.
And Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris is involved with a Pennsylvania company that wants to research marijuana use for pain management.
As the potential for a federal crackdown continues to grow, expect more advocates for the legal marijuana industry to make their voices heard.