The United States of America: land of the free and home of the brave, where the police can arrest you for smoking a marijuana cigarette any day of the week they please. It’s been that way for pretty as long as anyone can remember, and for the majority of Americans, smoking a joint is still an easy to way to get arrested. Around six-out-of-ten Americans — 62% — say marijuana use should be made legal, adding to a steady increase over the past decade, according to a Pew Research Center survey released on Oct. 8, 2018.
But it might not always be this way. In fact, if we look at where the political momentum is going and combine it with the latest polling, there’s a good chance that it won’t stay that way for much longer.
Pressure From The North And South
Further, our continental neighbors Canada and Mexico have both passed national legislation to legalize marijuana. Mexico legalized medical marijuana nationally in 2017; this month Canada becomes the second and largest country worldwide to create a legal national marijuana marketplace for all adults.
Canada is on the verge of making a profound social shift as it officially starts to turn a massive marijuana black market into a regulated, taxable commodity that will create billions worth of legal wealth and a vast potential for long-term job growth.
This side of the border, however, the pastures ain’t so green. While the liberalization of recreational and medical marijuana at the state level continues to gain momentum — a majority of Americans now live in a state with legal access to medicinal or recreational marijuana — the drug remains illegal at the federal level.
When we look up to our northern neighbor, the question becomes: why isn’t marijuana legal here?
Congress Disproportionately Fights For The Upper Class
It’s sad fact that casts a long shadow over a range of issues. Overwhelmingly, public policy does not reflect the preferences of the majority of Americans. If the public’s policy preferences were enacted, the country would change in a massive way: Medicare-for-all would be enacted; public colleges would be free; the minimum wage would be higher, and cannabis would be totally legal.
But, since the Supreme Court’s 2008 Citizens United case, money literally talks in America.
Already, corporate business like Philip Morris and Coca-Cola have made investments in Canada’s legal marijuana markets. With enough time, money and Washington lobbyists, marijuana will likely become legal here too — but the question is when and to the benefit of whom.
In the past few years, both parties have found common ground when trying to move past the failed war on drugs. Republicans and Democrats are crafting legislation that reduces marijuana sentencing, deschedules cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, and improves addiction treatment option to address the opioid crisis.
Current scheduling generates more revenue
The federal government has a revenue incentive to maintain the marijuana prohibition status quo. Medical and recreational marijuana businesses cannot deduct common business expenses because they’re selling an item that is illegal under the Controlled Substances Act.
That means that marijuana businesses can face an effective tax rate of 70% to 90% without the deductions. The federal government's total revenue is estimated at $3.422 trillion for 2019 while the marijuana businesses generated $2.8 billion in revenue for the feds during 2018 — just a drop in the bucket, but maybe it could be a concern.
Lawmakers: What About our kids?!
Even though many lawmakers are fine giving the green light to fossil fuel profiteers dedicated to destroying the planet before the next generation can enjoy it, many of these same lawmakers think marijuana and kids must be kept away from each other like eggs and frying pans.
It’s probably (definitely) a good idea to encourage young people to wait before trying marijuana while their prefrontal cortex is in development. But even with all the careful parenting and safety precautions, the kids may not pay attention to you and turn out like Barack Obama who used marijuana in high school and went on to become president of the United States. Even so, legalizing weed has led to lower marijuana use among teenage populations in Colorado and Washington anyway, so the lawmakers should get off it and let adults smoke weed if they choose to.
The DEA is considering rescheduling the marijuana and hemp derivative CBD after the FDA approved a UK-based prescription cannabinoid drug. But with public pressure ongoing since 1972 to deschedule marijuana, the DEA is unlikely to deschedule cannabis without a push from Congress or the executive branch.
How To Legalize It
If it chose to, the DEA could drop marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act tomorrow. However, if the federal government decides to reschedule marijuana to Schedule II instead of removing it altogether from the Controlled Substances Act, it could be worse than doing nothing.
Rescheduling marijuana would Schedule II would put it under intense scrutiny by the FDA. With the revolving door, this means that marijuana heavyweights would be able to stack the FDA with industry insiders and possibly push small marijuana operation of out of business by implementing regulations that only the largest operations could accommodate to — similar to what is happening in the food industry.
Naturally, we want marijuana to be safe, affordable and dank, but we also want to make sure the marijuana economy benefits the 99% of everyday people rather than just the 1% of lucky investors.
Currently, there are various bills in Congress that aim to deschedule marijuana, including a bill put forward by Jared Polis, who leader of Congressional Cannabis Caucus and a Colorado gubernatorial candidate for the Democratic Party.
NORML’s political director Justin Strekal told the Westword that his organization supports the descheduling of marijuana:
“We've long maintained that it's imperative to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act... The best thing the federal government can do is get out of the way of states that are implementing policies for their own constituents."