Federal law has prohibited cannabis since 1937 when the Marijuana Tax Act was passed. That law placed an unreasonable tax on the sale of cannabis, effectively barring it on the federal level. In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act designated cannabis a Schedule I drug, or a substance with a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.
Despite an abundance of evidence contradicting that designation, cannabis continues to be illegal at the national level. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has made the recommendation that cannabis be rescheduled; and a wave of states has recently legalized cannabis for either medical or recreational use.
On August 1, Democratic Senator Cory Booker became one more legislator to introduce a bill that would legalize cannabis at the federal level. The Marijuana Justice Act would remove cannabis from the drug schedule and provide financial incentives for states to regulate cannabis. If this bill passes, it won’t just be a democratic victory—it will be an American victory.
Democrats and Republicans may disagree on many issues, but when it comes to cannabis, both parties have a lot to gain.
Republicans and Democrats at a Glance
Democrats tend to believe that the government has a responsibility to take care of its most vulnerable citizens through welfare programs. Their belief is that it is appropriate for that government to collect the resources (taxes) to fulfill that role from the citizens who can afford to give them.
The Republican philosophy is more individualistic. Republicans tend to believe that the government’s responsibility is primarily to protect its people from international threat and crime. However, when it comes to the vulnerable, Republicans put a high premium on the individual’s willingness to work hard to overcome their obstacles, regardless of their circumstances.
Where Both Sides Stand On Legalization
The identities of the Democratic and Republican party have evolved since their formations, and the past three election cycles have made it clear that their roles are continuing to change. When people hear “Democrat,” they often think liberal, whereas the word “Republican” carries a much more conservative connotation. But what that means is relative, and many people fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum even though they may identify politically with one party or the other.
A Gallup poll shows that at 51 percent, the majority of Republicans support cannabis legalization. 72 percent of Democrats support legalization. Overall, 64 percent of Americans support legalization, bringing support for legal cannabis use to an all-time high.
When it comes to cannabis, members on both aisles can find more than one incentive to get on board with efforts to legalize. Though Republican Attorney General Jeff Sessions seems to be taking a hard line against cannabis, he is out of touch with his party.
The legalization of cannabis is truly a bipartisan issue. Here’s why.
It’s a Boon for the Economy
The cannabis industry creates jobs and generates an enormous amount of revenue. Industry analysts predict that legal cannabis could be worth $50 billion by 2026. Democrats can get behind the tax income that states have been diverting to education, drug rehabilitation, and infrastructure programs. Republicans can support the incentive the industry provides entrepreneurs to create businesses that provide people with jobs and the financial security that stimulates economic growth.
Society is Ready
There are those in both parties who outright oppose the use of any mind-altering substance. Those people could probably be swayed to support the legalization of the industrial cannabis Sativa plant, hemp. Because hemp is cannabis, it is illegal to cultivate in the United States at the federal level even though it has absolutely no psychoactive effect. Those who oppose recreational cannabis may be open to the idea of CBD, a derivative of the cannabis plant that has lots of therapeutic attributes without any psychotropic ones.
Then there are most people who themselves like to kick back a beer or two and are empathetic to the desire to consume a substance that helps you unwind after a long day at work. Republicans and Democrats alike fit into this category, and as the previously mentioned Gallup poll suggests, are open to the idea of legalized cannabis.
Though cannabis has developed a pretty bad reputation over the past eighty years, research about the plant as well as the open admission to cannabis use by celebrities including the likes of United States Presidents have softened its image and made it much more palatable to even the most conservative voter.
It’s a Matter of Law and Order
Cannabis prohibition was never based on fact. It was based on the hatred and fear of Mexican immigrants, then the hatred and fear of Blacks, then the hatred and fear of hippies, and then the hatred and fear of change.
Well, it’s time to get over it. The enforcement of cannabis prohibition costs billions of taxpayer dollars every year and has fed the prison industrial complex with a disproportionate amount of people of color, decimating their communities and creating a cycle of criminality.
Democrats can support the protection of marginalized communities from a drug war that was designed to destroy the most vulnerable, and Republicans can support the immense amount of money cannabis legalization will save law enforcement.
The truth is, the reasons to support legalization significantly outweigh the reasons not to no matter what your politics are.
So What’s the Problem?
Legal cannabis competes with multiple industries that also happen to have enormous financial and political capital. Big Pharma and Big Alcohol, for example, are major players in the campaigns against cannabis. Pharmaceutical companies want to maintain their monopoly on drug therapy, and the thought of relinquishing that power to a plant that patients can grow for themselves is threatening. Alcohol distributors fear that their customers will switch over to cannabis, though it is more likely that customers will choose to imbibe both substances rather than switching over to one.
Legislators are elected officials, which means that they have to run campaigns. Campaigns cost a lot of money that regular citizens usually can’t supply. The bulk of campaign money comes from political action committees (PACs) and wealthy donors. PACs are typically sponsored by businesses and trade associations—the kind of organizations comprised by large companies that make up the pharmaceutical and alcohol industries. That means that these industries have a powerful say in the kinds of legislation state representatives are willing to support.
That means that until more legislators are willing to represent their constituents instead of their super PACS, cannabis will remain a Schedule I substance.