Every day we move closer to making the decriminalization of cannabis in our country a reality, and thankfully, our more progressive politicians are pushing for more sensible drug policies. Senator Bernie Sanders has been getting increasingly vocal with his thoughts on the subject, and most recently has proposed “removing marijuana from a list of the most dangerous drugs outlawed by the federal government — a move that would free states to legalize it without impediments from Washington,” as was reported this week by the Washington Post. This shift in federal policy would most definitely be a relief for those involved in the medical marijuana industry, and would also be a tremendous boon to the cannabis industry overall. As the Washington Post explains in another related article, if marijuana were to be removed from the DEA’s drug schedule, the DEA would stop their eradication program and end it’s raids on marijuana businesses and their customers, marijuana businesses would finally be able to use banks and apply for tax breaks, and medical research on cannabis could finally proceed uninhibited by senseless, Draconian laws that only do more harm than any sort of good.
Although there is still resistance among some Republicans, and several of the Republican presidential hopefuls even speak of intensifying the war on drugs, it seems there is growing support for legalization even among conservative voters. A recent “poll from the advocacy group Marijuana Majority finds that 67 percent of Republican voters in New Hampshire and 64 percent in Iowa want the next president to loosen federal enforcement of marijuana laws,” according to popular political newspaper, The Hill. Even if Republican leaders aren’t willing to work for decriminalization and allow for states to set their own policies, at least their constituents are calling for reform. With all this momentum building, it seems we are well on our way to removing marijuana from the schedule of illicit drugs, allowing states to form their own policies accordingly, and possibly legalizing recreational marijuana in more states who are working to get proposals on the the 2016 ballot. It’s no wonder that Newsweek magazine has proclaimed the next election as the Marijuana Election!
The issue of legalization has become increasingly important in recent years for many different reasons. For one thing, medical marijuana has not only been proving that cannabis does in fact have legitimate medicinal uses, but the industry that springs forth in the wake of these legal reforms is a great boost to the economy. The same can definitely be said of recreational enterprises that have been proving to be profitable for states like Oregon and Colorado. Just in the first year of Colorado’s experiment with legal recreational weed, the state “collected $63 million in tax revenue and an additional $13 million in licenses and fees on $699 million of combined medical and recreational pot sales in 2014,” according to Bloomberg Business. This is a pretty good reason for other states to legalize and tax marijuana in order to both reduce the costs of enforcing laws that prohibit marijuana possession and keep innocent people out of jail for nonviolent offenses. The former would allow law enforcement to focus on fighting more real crimes and the latter would also help to keep the poor from being further impoverished, while saving states even more money at the same time.
Another aspect of both the legal and commercial landscapes that would be transformed by descheduling cannabis would be the production of industrial hemp. Once the DEA is forced to refocus their efforts on more harmful and addictive substances, there wouldn’t be any more issues such as the recent raid on a Menominee Indian tribe in Wisconsin who were growing hemp for research purposes. Apparently, the laws and guidelines that have allowed for experimentations with cannabis for both hemp and marijuana on tribal lands have left many confused by several such raids in which federal agents have claimed the THC content of plants being grown was too high. This is exactly what happened to the Menominee operation in Wisconsin, but:
“THC levels aside, defenders of the tribe point to the Justice Department memo that last year gave federally recognized tribes a green light to legalize marijuana for recreational use, so long as they do not trip certain enforcement priorities established in 2013 for states, such as engaging in organized crime, disseminating marijuana to other jurisdictions or providing it to minors.”
Despite both the federal okay for recreational marijuana on tribal lands, and the approval of industrial hemp production, it seems as though the DEA just wants to keep with the same approach to cannabis prohibition across the board. In the next year, it will be interesting to see how the decriminalization of cannabis will occur both on the state and federal levels. As various states look to legalize recreational weed, and still more continue to institute medical marijuana programs, it will become increasingly important for federal policies to allow for the states to set their own standards. And so, it seems of considerable interest to the people of our nation that our next President lead the way in this effort toward decriminalization.