How an unlikely alliance is set to end cannabis prohibition federally.
Despite the current hyper-partisan reality we live in, cannabis could be the first
bipartisan legislation passed by Congress in years. With a long history of criminalization and an established ‘war on drugs’ style enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) holds the power to change the fundamentals of cannabis policy by removing marijuana from being a Schedule 1 Drug. Despite the progress made socially and politically, law enforcement is still spending tens of millions of dollars each year to enforce marijuana prohibition. Today, the momentum of change has removed the fear of “coming out green,” while the assumption that prohibition could never end has been proven to be false.
Historical support for cannabis reform has never been down party lines. The complexity and history of cannabis brought those conservative ‘small government’ values in line with the ‘fight the system of oppression’ liberals. This is how we have ended up with Snoop Dogg, Charles Koch, and Weldon Angelos coming together for the Cannabis Freedom Alliance (CFA). Their four founding principles are:
- Federal De-Scheduling & Criminal Justice Reform
- Re-entry & Successful Second Chances
- Promote Entrepreneurship in Free & Open Markets
- Competitive & Reasonable Tax Rates
Now we ask, is this unlikely team at the right moment in history? Can this seemingly antagonistic team pass the first truly bipartisan legislation in a very long time? In reality, the timing has never been better for a major paradigm shift in the way the government deals with marijuana.
First, it makes sense financially. The cost/benefit analysis of the war on drugs has been dismal at best because it is not a drug problem; it is a health problem. On the revenue side, States across the country are showing the real-world benefits of regulated Cannabis. With this financial reality, institutional inertia is the main thing perpetuating the current paradigm.
Second is the reality that cannabis is a food, and the cannabinoids found in this plant have beneficial health properties. The Reefer Madness propaganda may have worked for one generation, but the countless stories of cannabis having profound health benefits erodes the myth of the “devil’s lettuce.”
Lastly, but because of the first two, the public support for change is here. The latest Gallup poll showed national support at 68%, with the younger, well-educated, and economically successful respondents pushing the average to 75% supporting legalization.
Now the speculation of what’s to come. First, legislation will come out of congress and will end cannabis prohibition as we’ve known it by removing cannabis from schedule 1 on the list of controlled substances. This will include support from over a dozen Republicans and will likely include some regulations, guidance, or goals that will shape the future regulated market but will effectively get the federal government out of the business of prohibiting cannabis and into the business of regulating and taxing it. With over half the states having some cannabis regulations and no further risk of federal response, federal agencies, state governments and private businesses, and nonprofits will have the confidence to grow and further establish this still-emerging market. Similar to alcohol legislation, there will be states that push the regulatory extremes, but the majority in the middle will find a regulatory standard that gets established naturally. This is likely when the federal government steps back in and establishes its regulatory power to ensure consistency across states regarding the potency and quality of cannabis products. It could be the ATF or FDA or a new agency, but a federal agency will be charged with regulating the fundamentals of interstate commerce of cannabis. Today there are three markets to buy products made from cannabis; an FDA-approved drug, over-the-counter cannabidiol (CBD) hemp product, or a state-regulated medicinal / recreational product. I suspect that the current administration will do what it can to support the FDA pathway first, then the natural hemp products, and lastly, state-regulated markets. Only time will tell.
If the possibility of ending cannabis prohibition federally can convince Snoop Dogg and Charles Koch to come together, we can be hopeful that more political odd couples will come together to hash out the details of how we end Cannabis prohibition. And hopefully, it will set a solid, beneficial precedence for change that will positively affect the world and the economy.
By Brendon Strause, Managing Director and Co-Founder, G. Randall & Sons, Inc.
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