Updated on January 29, 2021.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Politics have been really interesting this past year. So has the progress in cannabis legalization. Now, all eyes are on Chuck Schumer. There were so many firsts; it is hard to list them all. But the most important adversity we faced as a country; we are still facing. The impact of living with the Novel Covid-19 coronavirus. And what that means for every community, business, and family.
As the next team entered the White House, it felt like the legalization of cannabis might finally have ‘lift.’ After all, the Democratic Party has always favored the decriminalization of cannabis. The Democrats have inherited a new year full of economic and healthy, and safety threats. And beleaguered federal reserves as state governors look for more help from D.C.
This may be a job for… cannabis! Or at least the legalization and federal taxation of cannabis. Marijuana Moment reported that Chuck Schumer had a good long talk to NBA former player Al Harrington. Mr. Harrington owns the cannabis company Viola Brands. He interviewed Schumer and promoted him to share his stance on federal legalization.
Listen to what Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had to say, via Let’s Talk Cannabis:
Chuck Schumer has a pragmatic viewpoint about cannabis. We have no current reason to believe it is harmful. Or anymore harmful than other regulated products like alcohol or tobacco. So wasting money on penalizing it makes no sense. But making money from taxing it does.
If you have been asking yourself whether cannabis legalization will get swept under the Covid-19 efforts, guess again. It seems that President Biden’s administration plans to move legalization through quickly. Don’t agree? Think about America’s best chance to finance increased healthcare needs for Covid-19? The government won’t be selling pandemic bonds. The federal government wants states to grow something more lucrative; their respective cannabis industries.
Decriminalization and Federal Legalization Has Been a Long Time Coming
At Marijuana Doctors, we have been closely following the political trajectory of legalization since 2010. And for more than a decade, legislation efforts were brought at the state and federal levels. Laws were written, proposed, and declined. Over and over again.
Cannabis was demonized. People smoking it were criminals. It was intensely racialized as well. Only people of color and Mexicans used cannabis for nefarious purposes, including organized crime. And the one goal of the dark-skinned cannabis smokers was to corrupt good, middle-class white Americans.
The ‘devil’s lettuce’ indeed and weed became the poster cause for white supremacy and segregation. Not long after the sixties and seventies, pot became a beatnik cultural phenomenon. It was not the bad people that did pot. Well, not entirely bad; they were white kids that had fallen victim to the Beatnik culture. Booze, rock and roll, the Chelsea Hotel, and cheap weed. Or the good stuff if you could afford it.
No one really remembers the 1980s. Cannabis was still a ‘party drug’ and controlled substance. But other types of recreational drugs emerged in the United States. Popular culture embraced cocaine and psychedelics like mushrooms or Special K (ketamine).
Pot was something everyone had but only used if they did not have something better. Crack and heroin became the drugs of choice in the ’90s. And small-town people were obsessed with acid. And mushrooms. Through decades of prohibition, is the United States ready to declare cannabis an equivalent to alcohol or tobacco products? Maybe.
Is the War on Drugs in America Coming to An End?
The ‘war on drugs’ has always been part of American culture. But the categorization of cannabis with heavy drugs like cocaine, peyote, or meth has not seemed right. Those drugs are not even sisters from another mister in terms of potency, abuse, and overdose risk.
But the law did not differentiate in terms of drug-related charges. And the penalties for any Schedule 1 drug are the same. You are in just as much trouble after a possession charge for weed as you are possessing other deadly types of recreational drugs—particularly cannabis products that are manufactured, including concentrates and vape carts.
It makes no sense, right? We’ve been scratching our heads for decades trying to figure out cannabis prohibition. Personally, I have never seen a violent or dangerous pothead. But I have read many instances of heavy drug users and alcoholics who do harm to others. After smoking a bowl, you are more likely to hit a big bowl of cereal than hit someone else. Or cause any trouble. Cannabis users are a peaceful and chill bunch.
The cost of the war on drugs is astounding. Yes, we need to be investing in border control to stem the flood of dangerous illicit substances into America. Pew Research reported that in 2018, 4 out of every ten arrests, or 40% of overall drug charges. If cannabis was decriminalized, that is 40% fewer potential arrests. America has the highest incarceration rates in the world. And that could change quickly.
Why 2020 Was the Best Year for the National Cannabis Industry
It must be hard for the federal government to buck the pressure to legalize right now. Thirty-six states have legalized cannabis programs. Essentially, the country is past the tipping point when it comes to weed. A recent PEW poll also stated that less than 32% of Americans oppose cannabis. The winds of social and cultural opinion changed. Pot is now ‘okay’.
Not just okay for patients with health conditions. But okay for people to use and self-medicate with. Safely and responsibly. As a replacement for cigarettes, an alternative to alcohol, and an organic method to manage stress and anxiety. Last year (2020) was an omni-lateral Armageddon. It is no coincidence that pot sales went sky high during the pandemic.
Enter “The MORE Act” and the legislation that could finally legalize cannabis. Nationally. It would remove the problematic barriers licensed cannabis providers have faced. In 2012, over three hundred (300) economists signed a petition to legalize federally. They estimated the United States spends billions on cannabis prohibition annually.
The legislation came close to passing through the Senate. The MORE Act earned bipartisan support in the House of Representatives. The survival of the bill in the Senate was given a less than favorable change. But now, with the Senate changed and more pressure from states for Covid-19 funds, it has a good chance of being ratified in 2021.
The two largest political parties may be at odds on various topics, but one thing is clear; they want to get back to the ‘old normal’ as soon as possible. And if tax revenues from states like Florida, Oklahoma, and Colorado are any indication, legalization will provide more money to recover from Covid-19.
Democratic Party Already Receiving Criticism Over Pot Legalization
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has repeatedly shared that cannabis legalization is a priority for the federal government. There have been concerns that all the progress that was made toward legalization in 2020 would be lost. But so far, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
You have probably already heard the complaints and social media commentary. Now that there has been a change in political leadership, other changes may happen fast as the federal legalization of cannabis that everyone has been waiting for since the 1970s. Some critics feel that the federal government’s focus should, of course, be the Covid-19 response. As well as pandemic social and economic recovery for the United States.
The signals so far from the House of Representatives and the Senate are favorable in 2021. There are many advantages to federal legalization, as the potential 9% sales tax will be lucrative. A new source of funds while our country faces continued challenges coping with Covid-19.
The move to federally legalize cannabis would not happen before or in lieu of stimulus support for Americans. It seems that it may be implemented in tandem with a new stimulus package through the Senate. Officials in the Senate seem motivated and are very capable of multitasking several recovery strategies.
The federal legalization of cannabis may be one of the most important solutions they enact. And the consensus is that both Republicans and Democrats align in the importance of passing cannabis reform laws. It serves everyone’s best interests.
With Schumer, Legalization of Cannabis Could Save Federal and State Governments Billions
There are other advantages outside of the billions of dollars of tax revenue that legalization could provide the feds. States could see a large drop in law enforcement’s cost if cannabis possession became nothing more than a ticket at most (compared to a felony or misdemeanor charge), that would add up. To big savings in law enforcement and legal costs.
Federal legalization (when it happens) will also release citizens from prisons nationwide. If an individual was convicted and served time for a personal use cannabis charge, they could be released. Providing that the nature of the charge is not related to violence, weapon use, or organized crime. That would save millions of dollars annually for incarceration costs.
Chuck Schumer is also a passionate supporter of expungement. Mass expungement for personal use cannabis crimes is part of the new legislation. It is drafted to give people who have been convicted for cannabis a ‘fresh start.’ Citizens would have their criminal record for marijuana possession deleted. And that is the kind of gift that could change the lives of 40% of families in the United States. It would improve employability, housing, and educational opportunities after expungement.
Many of the Southern United States have struggled with rising Covid-19 infection rates. In September 2020, Marijuana Moment reported that 53% of Republicans were in favor of rescheduling and decriminalizing cannabis. Interestingly, 57% of Republicans were concerned that the cannabis industry was becoming “corporatized.” Or quickly turning into a monopoly by fast-growing multi-state operators (MSOs).
What Would Federally Legalized Cannabis Change for Consumers?
Right now, even if you have a medical card, you are not permitted to travel over a state border with marijuana. On the consumer side, it is easy to commit a felony offense with cannabis right now. Mail it via U.S. Post? Felony. Take some cannabis on a camping trip at a state park? Felony. And that’s just a few ways that average people get into legal trouble with pot.
On the commercial side of things, federal legalization would open up the marketplace. Multi-state operators like Curaleaf could not only produce products for their own dispensaries; they could wholesale it too. Nationally.
Can you imagine a day when you could, technically, order cannabis online from Amazon? Never going to happen. When the Farm Act was passed, and hemp became legalized, Amazon was flooded virtually overnight with CBD products. Buying weed will become easier. And it will also help keep the prices down.
In some markets, state producers are not growing enough to meet demand. But where demand exceeds supply, the prices remain high. Federal legalization would increase competition among cannabis brands. That would help keep it more affordable. Which would also increase sales and tax revenues. Federal economists and Chuck Schumer know that too.
Ending the War on Cannabis and Turning Resources to Dangerous Street Drug Prevention
One of the best benefits of legalization may ironically be an end to the War on Drugs. And it could be a victory for the federal government in an unorthodox way. After decades of waging a moral misinformation campaign against cannabis, legalization may end organized crime. Or at least, make cartels and criminal drug circuits switch to a different product.
Street dealers would not be able to compare to the quality and the cost provided by legal retailers. That also means access to safer cannabis products. And better supervision and control for federal and state regulators. The resources saved from the war against cannabis could be used to address life-threatening illicit substances.
Law enforcement could then progress to eliminate drugs like heroin, cocaine, crocodile, bath salts, and other hazardous street drugs. Some of the taxation revenues from the 9% excise on cannabis sales (should the MORE Act be ratified) will fund addiction services. Tax revenues would also be allocated to state healthcare and education funding.
As the pandemic passes the one-year anniversary since the first time we met Covid-19, legalization seems imminent. Almost necessary. And while there are concerns that legalization may throw shade on more important stimulus support laws, that’s not really the case.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer lends his support. Both the stimulus funding and other measures that federal legalization of cannabis are vitally important. If not, two of the most important economic strategies to help the United States recover from the pandemic.