Well guys, it’s finally starting to happen. This might not be the bill to do it in the end, but let’s be honest, it’s a milestone in itself that the US House of Representatives is finally voting to legalize recreational cannabis.
In the US, there’s a constant issue of federal law vs states rights, and one of the big examples of this is with marijuana. While it has been legalized by several states (in different capacities from medicinal to recreational), these legalizations have been in constant opposition to US federal law which illegalizes all high-THC cannabis. Is this vote by the House of Representatives the key to cannabis legalization”?
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What about the farm bill?
Good question! This vote that will be taking place in the House of Representatives might be groundbreaking in terms of US federal cannabis law, but it’s not the first major step that’s been taken to reverse this century-long ban on cannabis. One of the big wins prior to this was in the most recent US farm bill. The farm bill is a set of laws that govern agricultural and nutritional policy, and it’s updated every five years. The last farm bill went into effect in 2018.
What made this recent farm bill different from previous ones, is that for the first time it accounted for industrial hemp, which it hadn’t done before. The reason it was never mentioned previously is because prior to this farm bill, no distinction was made between low-THC cannabis (hemp), and high-THC cannabis (marijuana). Prior to this farm bill, though hemp production was not illegal, it was very much restricted, and the farm bill worked to expand hemp production with the caveat of having a max THC amount of .3% for plants to be legal.
There are, of course, plenty of other restrictions and red tape involved, but simply having federal legislation officially mentioning and allowing hemp production, is a major first step for the US on a federal level.
States’ rights & a recap of the current situation
Of course, America is not as simple as one federal mandate to cover all. As a country very intent on its states’ rights, the US federal government has been in opposition to local governments for many years now over cannabis. Ever since California legalized medicinal cannabis in 1996 there’s been an expected clash between the federal government and citizens operating under approved state law.
In fact, going back even further, it was Oregon which was the first state to decriminalize cannabis back in 1973 (an interesting state in that it is also the first state looking to decriminalize all drugs, a move seen already in countries like Portugal.) As such, the current situation doesn’t change the fact that in 11 states across America, recreational cannabis is already legal, no matter what the federal government says, so this House of Representatives vote will have no bearing in those states regardless.
As of this writing, when it comes to legalized recreational marijuana, there are 12 locations that have legalized, 11 states that approved having a regulated market, 10 that have regulation and tax structures in place for their regulated markets, and nine with functioning recreational markets right now.
The nine locations with functional recreational markets are: Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Maine makes ten as legalization passed and the market is structured for the most part and ready to be opened soon. Vermont makes 11 as the latest state to legalize recreational cannabis, however no structured market has yet been agreed on, and so for now, no actual market exists. Bringing it up to 12 is Washington DC, which has the distinction of being the only location in the US where cannabis is legal to possess and use, but buying and selling it remain illegal.
This juxtaposition in laws shows the strange legal limbo where DC sits, as a democratic liberal haven that supports legalization, yet home of the federal government which keeps any legal market from being established.
The new vote
In a country where states are dropping left and right to open up legal cannabis markets, it’s not surprising that the federal government would eventually take the bait.
For the first time since it was illegalized back in the 1900s, the House of Representatives will finally be voting on a bill to legalize recreational cannabis on a federal level. Majority leader Steny Hoyer said the vote was due during the week of the 21st of September, and if the bill were to pass, it would remove marijuana (high-THC – above .3% cannabis) from the list of controlled substances, as well as allowing for the expungement of many criminal records in accordance with the new law.
In terms of American overall interest in legalization, a recent Gallup poll from 2019 found that 66% of Americans support legalization, with a much stronger democratic leaning (over 3/4 of democrats were in support, while closer to 50% of republicans were in support).
What are the implications?
The first big one, of course, is that it wouldn’t be a criminal activity anymore to possess or use marijuana so long as its use is done within legal standards. It would also allow for many criminal records to be expunged.
The second implication is similar to what is going on with France vs the EU right now. In short, France is currently in litigation with the EU as a whole over whether a local law in France banning CBD (an indirect ban on CBD by the 100% banning of THC), is in contradiction to EU trade law which allows the free movement of goods across borders. The original case centered around an import to France from the Czech Republic that completely followed all EU regulation, but was in contradiction to France’s more stringent drug laws.
If France wins the case, universal EU trade laws are weakened, and individual member countries have more room to argue individual trade case issues between countries. If France loses, it creates the equivalent of a federal mandate, at which point all EU member states must conform. In this way, the ruling has the ability to force legalization across EU countries. The idea in America is essentially the same. If a bill passes to legalize recreational cannabis on a federal level, every state will have to comply, like it or not, and it would force all those that have held out, to update their drug policies for legalization and create regulated markets.
Another big implication has to do with banking. When there’s a contradiction in laws, it makes it difficult for institutions like banks, and in fact, many legal cannabis businesses have a hard time finding banks to work with. This issue exists within the US, but can also be seen with other countries, especially when it comes to the international trade of cannabis. Having a legalized system opens the door for standard banking measures, and creates a standardized system for banking.
So, is it likely?
To be perfectly honest…probably not. At least not right now. I mean, it’s a really great thought, and it’s certainly a move in the right direction that the vote will exist at all, but clearing the House is one thing, clearing the House and Senate is a whole other story. The bill has a lot of support in the House including by the democratic majority leader.
In the Senate it has a more uphill battle, with strong opposition by majority leader Mitch McConnell, and republicans criticizing democrats over putting too much attention on marijuana legalization during a pandemic – which is an odd complaint considering the amount of money being lost, and that this is an industry that has the capacity to recoup some of it. Regardless, the House vote will likely act as a sort of placeholder, a reminder that this is where we’re going, even if we’re not ready to get there just yet.
Change doesn’t usually happen in a single day. California legalized medical cannabis back in 1996, and the first recreational legalization was in 2012. So it does happen, it just takes time, and that’s what we need to remember. The official federal legalization of recreational cannabis likely won’t be related to this House of Representatives vote – that’s wishful thinking. However, the next time it’s up on the docket, you can bet it’ll pass right through.
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