Two bipartisan bills that would exclude marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and leave regulating the plant to the states have been introduced.
The most recent piece of legislation, titled the “Ending Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017”, was introduced by representatives Tom Garrett (R-VA) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) on Monday.
If passed, federal criminal penalties for possessing and growing the plant would be eliminated, and the states would have power and flexibility to establish their own marijuana policies free from federal intervention.
In a statement, Representative Garrett said:
I have long believed justice that isn’t blind, isn’t justice. Statistics indicate that minor narcotics crimes disproportionately hurt areas of lower socio-economic status and what I find most troubling is that we continue to keep laws on the books that we do not enforce. Virginia is more than capable of handling its own marijuana policy, as are states such as Colorado or California.
This step allows states to determine appropriate medicinal use and allows for industrial hemp growth, something that will provide a major economic boost to agricultural development in Southside Virginia. In the coming weeks, I anticipate introducing legislation aimed at growing the hemp industry in Virginia, something that is long overdue.
The intent of the “Ending Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017″ is consistent with the view of most voters, reports NORML:
According to polling data released last week by Quinnipiac University, 59 percent of Americans endorse legalizing the adult use of marijuana, and 71 percent of voters — including majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans, believe that state governments, not the federal government, should be the ultimate arbiters of marijuana policy.
On February 7 of this year another piece of bipartisan legislation – H.R.975 – Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017 – was reintroduced, reports NORML:
Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), along with six other Republicans and six Democrats, has reintroduced bipartisan legislation, ‘The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act,’ to prevent the federal government from criminally prosecuting individuals and/or businesses who are engaging in state-sanctioned activities specific to the possession, use, production, and distribution of marijuana.
HR 975 states, ‘‘Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the provisions of this subchapter related to marihuana shall not apply to any person acting in compliance with State laws relating to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana.’’
Passage of this Act would halt federal officials from prosecuting individuals and businesses for violating the Controlled Substances Act in the 29 states that permit either the medical or adult use and distribution of marijuana.
In addition to the bills discussed above, there are many others that are pending. A few call for legalization at the federal level, and there are many that propose state-level legislation and decriminalization measures.
President Trump has said he supports states’ rights. However, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is an outspoken marijuana prohibitionist, and recent comments from the Trump administration warning of a coming federal crackdown in adult use states are signs that the passage of this legislation is more important than ever.
Last Thursday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in a press conference that he expects to see “greater enforcement” of federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized the drug for recreational purposes:
“There’s still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.”
This rattled the cannabis industry, the Chicago Tribune reports:
Along with the District of Columbia, eight states have legalized recreational use among adults, including California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada just this past November. That means one in five American adults can smoke, vape, drink, or eat cannabis as they please under state law.
Meanwhile, over half of the nation’s states have legalized medical marijuana despite federal laws prohibiting its sale. The industry is estimated to be worth north of $6 billion and will hit $50 billion by 2026, according to Cowen & Co.
“Today’s news coming out of the administration regarding the adult use of cannabis is, of course, disappointing,” Derek Peterson, CEO of marijuana cultivator Terra Tech Corp., said Thursday in a statement. “We have hoped and still hope that the federal government will respect states’ rights in the same manner they have on several other issues.”
Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization that lobbies for pot-friendly changes to drug-related legislation, told the Tribune:
“To have Mr. Spicer say in one sentence that they’re a state’s rights administration and in the very next sentence say they’re going to crack down … it just defies logic.”
The legal cannabis industry is also a massive job creator. New Frontier Data says the cannabis industry will create more than 283,000 jobs by 2020. It is also a major revenue generator: Marijuana businesses in Colorado, which voted to legalize recreational use of the plant in 2012, reported roughly $1.1 billion in legal sales of medical and recreational marijuana and related products this year through the month of October, according to the latest batch of tax data from the state’s Department of Revenue.
Through October, Colorado has collected more than $150 million in taxes from legal marijuana sales, including nearly $50 million from a specific excise tax that directs funds to school construction projects. The first $40 million collected annually from the excise tax is earmarked for the school projects.
Will any of this legislation actually pass? It’s hard to say, but skepticism is warranted, considering that the federal government is at risk of substantial financial losses if use of the plant is fully legalized.
Currently, cannabis is listed under Schedule I, meaning that for the purposes of federal law, the drug has “no medical use and a high potential for abuse” and is one of “the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”
The plant shares Schedule 1 status with heroin, LSD, and methaqualone (Quaalude) and it is more strictly regulated than the powerful prescription painkillers that have killed more than 165,000 people since 1999. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has rejected every request to remove the plant from Schedule I (or even loosen restrictions) to date.
States that have legalized marijuana for recreational use have not been immune from the DEA’s Cannabis Eradication Program. Last year, they continued in Washington and Oregon. Full state breakdowns have not been provided, but a DEA spokesman said that just under 36,000 marijuana plants were destroyed in Washington last year at a cost to federal taxpayers of about $950,000, or roughly $26 per plant.
In 2014, via the DEA’s program, 4,300,833 plants were seized, 6,310 arrests were made, and the value of assets seized from “cultivators” totaled $27,342,950.59. In 2015, the value of assets seized was $29,705,902.43.
Who pays for this program? Americans do:
Much of the money the DEA uses to run their operation comes from the Justice Department’s asset forfeiture program, which is controversial itself: under this program, police can seize your property without charging you with a crime. In 2014, the government seized $4.5 billion from citizens – that’s more than the total value of assets that were stolen by criminals the same year. In other words, more assets were taken by law enforcement than by thieves.
For-profit prisons and the pharmaceutical industry also do not want to see cannabis legalized because it would result in tremendous financial losses for both industries. On February 21, Sessions rescinded an Obama-era memo aimed at reducing and ultimately ending the Justice Department’s use of private prisons. Sessions’s memo can be viewed here.
Why would Sessions rescind a plan to gradually end the use of private prisons? NBC News points out that “…the memo itself suggests that the attorney general is concerned about running out of available space in the 122 prisons the BOP runs itself — although current trends run opposite.”
It is also important to mention that private prisons mostly benefit two publicly traded companies, as NBC explains:
Those companies are CoreCivic (which until recently was known as Corrections Corporation of America), and The Geo Group. The two companies, both generous contributors to President Trump, run the majority of the BOP’s contracted prisons, as well as dozens of other facilities used to detain immigrants who are in the country illegally.
The companies’ fortunes climb and fall with federal criminal justice policies. Their stocks plunged after Obama’s deputy attorney general issued the phase-out memo on Aug. 18, and shot up after Donald Trump, who’d called for more private prisons, won election on Nov. 8. Since then, companies’ share prices have been steadily rising — and they enjoyed a bump from Sessions’ memo.
How many politicians stand to gain financially if cannabis remains illegal at the federal level? As long as industries that profit from continued prohibition are allowed to influence policy, the war on the plant will likely continue, no matter how many pieces of legislation and calls for reform are presented.
Follow the money.