Colson: Some State-Of-The-Union suggestions

John Colson
Hit & Run

President Donald Trump is to give his first State of the Union address tonight, and I’ve got a few suggestions for him.

Not that I necessarily believe he reads this column, nor that he agrees with its contents and ideas, but someone (whether one of his supporters or critics) might read this and send it along to him on a whim.

First of all is the issue of marijuana legalization by voters in a growing number of states in the U.S., which was attacked recently by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement that he wants to roll back the Obama-era relaxation of the federal war on pot in states where the voters have approved legalization in one way or another.

Trump has said in the past that he favors leaving such matters up to the states, and in fact, all but three states in the union have taken at least baby steps in that direction.

Only in Idaho, Kansas and South Dakota are there laws prohibiting any and all use of marijuana. Every other state has at least decriminalized use, and there are expected to be more legalization initiatives on the ballots of at least half a dozen states this year.

In addition, late last year Gallup put out a poll indicating that, for the first time ever, a majority of Republican respondents stated their belief that marijuana should be legalized.

All of this has taken place over the past 46 years or so, starting (of course) with California back in 1972, when the state proffered its first decriminalization law, Prop. 19. That one failed, but in 1996 California became the first state to permit medical marijuana to be grown, sold and consumed by eligible buyers.

It wasn’t until 2016 that California’s voters approved recreational marijuana production and sales.

Here in Colorado, as we all know full well, we were a little slower on the uptake. Voter approval of medical marijuana here did not happen until 2000, but then recreational marijuana got voter approval in 2012, four years ahead of California.

About 13 states have decriminalized pot use at various times in the past couple of decades. Due to recent ballot initiatives, we now have a total of 29 states where medical or recreational marijuana has been legalized, according to most published accounts.

According to a 2017 Gallup poll, some 67 percent of Americans in general support legalization for recreational use, and even more are in favor of legalizing it for medicinal uses.

Getting the picture, Trump? Don’t you think it’s time you brought in Sessions for a chat about his recent move to ignore more than a century of Republican states-right orthodoxy, by overruling the rights of states in this matter?

If all those who told the pollsters that they favor legalization vote in line with that opinion in the upcoming elections in 2018 and 2020, I should point out, the Republican-controlled Congress would be over in the wink of an eye, and you would be out of a job.

Kind of a novel idea, eh? Imagine hearing the voters tell you, in a resounding if somewhat stoned-out voice, “You’re fired!”

Never mind whether I’m hoping for that outcome. Just think about it in the self-centered way you entertain all thoughts, and give it a prominent spot in tonight’s speech.

Another suggestion is in the area of infrastructure, which was a centerpiece of your campaign but seems to have been moved to the outward edge of your plate in the year you’ve been in office.

By most reports, infrastructure spending will be high on the list of your speech tonight, and I hope you mention a specific aspect of our nation’s crumbling public transportation system: trains.

I happen to be a train buff (partly as an outgrowth of my growing disgust with air travel), having traveled by rail from Colorado to the West Coast and the Midwest numerous times over the years.

And I can tell you from first-hand experience that our national passenger-rail system, the public-private corporation known as Amtrak, is in pretty bad shape largely due to federal neglect.

The trains cars are old and in serious need of upgrading. The tracks are in such bad condition that spending the night in the upper bunk of a sleeper roomette involves being thrown around like an ice cube in a martini shaker as the train car rocks back and forth over certain stretches of uneven railroad.

The food in the dining cars is edible, even palatable, but certainly not up to the standards of the pre-Amtrak days.

And the porters, dining-car personnel and other employees complain bitterly about low wages, scheduling foul-ups that interfere with their personal lives, and other maladies that mostly rise from a lack of adequate funding by the federal government.

Of course, thanks to the recent Republican tax debacle, in which $1.5 trillion was stolen from federal coffers and handed over to the wealthy and the corporate classes, Amtrak’s prospects for federal support only got worse, along with the outlook for Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.

But we’re looking just at Amtrak right now, which has reported that 2017 was a banner year; nearly 32 million passengers, which was an increase of 1.5 percent over 2016, and revenue of about $3.2 billion, which also was a hefty jump over the previous year.

I believe it’s safe to say that even as air travel becomes unacceptably troublesome, overly expensive and less attractive, an unknown number of travelers have abandoned the not-so-friendly skies and rail travel has been able to take up some of that slack. Which is very interesting given the fact that federal subsidies for airlines (building airports, among other perks) and highway subsidies were a big part of the decline in rail travel that forced the creation of Amtrak in 1971 in order to keep passenger-rail options alive.

It would be great to hear Trump throw his considerable weight (both political and physical) behind a renewal of Amtrak and passenger-rail, in general.

We, as a nation, deserve better than being increasingly treated like cattle by airlines, or being forced to submit to gridlock, tornadoes and other maladies associated with getting behind the wheel for anything from commutes to work to cross-country treks to see the sights of America.

There’s more I could offer by way of suggestions for tonight’s speech, but this will have to do for now.

Thanks for your attention, Mr. President.

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