Opinion | Common Ground: Political Unity Around Federal Cannabis Prohibition Relief

Benzinga Cannabis , Benzinga Contributor (Originally published on Benzinga Here)

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By J Smoke Wallin

In 1925, five years into Prohibition, journalist H. L. Mencken wrote, 

“There is not less drunkenness in the Republic but more. Not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased but diminished.” 

Prohibition turned law-abiding citizens into criminals and enabled and empowered organized crime. It would take another eight years for the repeal of Prohibition, with the enactment of the 21st Amendment, paving the way for a set of local option laws and regulations, state by state, known today as America’s beverage alcohol system. While imperfect, the state by state system has functioned well for over 85 years.

Around the time of Prohibition’s repeal, another Prohibition went into effect: cannabis. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 eventually made a plant used in medicine, and available recreationally for thousands of years, illegal. Again, this turned otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals, enabled and empowered organized crime, and also denied countless patients suffering from a wide range of ailments, including cancer, access to a plant that could help them. 

Today, 33 states have some form of medical cannabis provision, with 10 implementing adult recreational use. More are drafting legislation regularly. The 2018 Farm Bill took the non-psychoactive form of cannabis “hemp” out of the hands of the DEA and into the Agriculture Department, paving the way for legal hemp and hemp-based CBD and other extracts for national production and consumption. This is progress—and it is only the beginning.

There is reason to believe the time is now to decriminalize cannabis federally and end the conflicted issues inherently present. While common ground seems impossible to find politically in 2019, there is a sensible center that has always existed and still exists today. Cannabis Prohibition repeal may be one of the few unifying issues one can hope for in Washington today. Here is why I believe it is possible with our current state of divided government.

States’ Rights: Conservatives can be against cannabis reform but still agree to it based on the strong principle of states’ rights. One of the core principles of modern-day conservatives has been a commitment to states’ rights. This goes back to the founding fathers’ expressed interest in limiting the size and scope of the Federal government. While the scope of the Federal government has increased dramatically over the years, there is still a strong expressed interest in decentralization on a whole host of issues, including education and healthcare. Anyone holding these beliefs ought to be persuadable that 33 states and counting were not wrong. They have expressed the will of their citizens. One only needs to listen to U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) as he fights for his state’s right to regulate legal cannabis — when he originally voted against it. If the GOP intends to keep the Senate in 2020, their members will need the opportunity to support repeal.

Wellness: As Todd Harrison of CB1 Capital says, “Cannabis isn’t about getting high; it’s about getting well.” While US research has been stymied by Prohibition, anecdotally, the evidence is abundant. Whether it be a cancer patient coping with the effects of treatment or a child with epileptic seizures, one cannot argue there are benefits to this plant.

Cannabis clinical trials are underway in Israel and Canada. Large scale university-based research is in the early days (and due to the prohibition, have been disallowed in the U.S. thus far). However, since the 2018 Farm Bill was signed into law last year, cannabis without THC, legally known as hemp, is not under the purview of the Agriculture Department. Cannabinol or “CBD” is one of the components in the cannabis plant and is showing great promise in treating a variety of conditions. It is now in the FDA approved medicine for Epilepsy Epidiolex. Its number one characteristic is as an anti-inflammatory followed by pain relief.

I personally was able to give up Advil through the use of CBD for my minor aches and pains. Additional possible indications for CBD products include autism, psychiatric conditions, diabetic neuropath pain, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and back pain. Clinical trials in these indications are underway; however, excluding THC from these studies makes zero scientific sense. The scientists committed should immediately be allowed to study the full cannabis plant in all its possible applications. Public demand is at an all-time high, and burying our heads in the sand scientifically is a disservice to the public.

Opioid Epidemic Overall And Loss Of Veterans: Over 50,000 citizens died in 2018 from some form of opioid incident. Cannabis has been shown to enable people to manage their chronic pain without the harmful side effects of opioids. The current approach is not working. We lose 22 veterans a day to suicide in this country as they cope with PTSD and the subsequent meds prescribed by the VA. I personally know veterans who were on the verge of suicide and were saved by the use of cannabis. Many VA doctors agree and would like the option. Veterans’ organizations stand universally in favor of legalized medical cannabis; so too should our nation’s leaders.

Economics: Since Colorado legalized adult use cannabis in 2014, the state generated over $6 billion in sales and $1 billion in tax revenue. CA generated $300 million in taxes in its first year of imperfect legislation and will amount to well over $3 billion once legal rollout is fully up and running. In fiscal year 2017-2018, Colorado Department of Revenue says it collected $250,968,890 in marijuana tax revenue. The constitution requires the first $40 million in excise tax money go to school construction. Anything over that from the excise tax goes toward public-school funds.

Overall, 47 percent of marijuana tax money went to schools for fiscal year 2017-2018, 41 percent went to other state services, and the remaining 12 percent went to the general fund. Denver alone collected $48 million in tax revenue on cannabis. In Denver, all marijuana tax money goes to the general fund. The city also needs to dedicate portions of that tax revenue to education, enforcement, and regulation. During the last five years, nearly $13 million of the revenue went toward youth prevention efforts. For 2018, the city also carved out money from marijuana revenue for certain projects, including $5 million for deferred capital maintenance, $4 million to fix aging parks and recreation centers and an estimated $8 million per year to help double Denver’s Affordable Housing Fund.

The states cannot afford not to go after this revenue source, not to mention the countless entrepreneurs rushing into the space to create value for their investors and stakeholders. It’s an economic windfall for the states that have moved forward and will be for the country at large if done right.

Social Justice Reform: Congress agreed, and the President signed some justice reform passed into law in 2018. Cannabis reform may further correct a legal system that disproportionately affected certain communities. 

Banking: The Federal Prohibition juxtaposed with state permission has created an untenable system whereby legitimate businesses are unable to access the federal banking system. This creates an unsafe environment with massive amounts of cash being handled. While some local state options exist, the Treasury department has publicly come out in favor of a solution for banking and legal taxation.

Elections And Public Opinion: Gallup has tracked the topic of cannabis legalization for years. 2018 marked the first time the majority of Americans in every segment favored some form of legalization. This applied to baby-boomers and millennials, to Democrats and Republicans. Almost every single presidential hopeful who has declared has come out publicly in favor of repealing the national cannabis ban in the form of the STATES Act, while some have gone much further with full legalization. This includes Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Julián Castro, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Tulsi Gabbard and Pete Buttigieg. President Trump has publicly stated his support for the states to decide.

When functioning properly, politicians serve their constituents. To get reelected, these politicians need to find a set of issues that gives them sufficient votes to win. There are no issues today that unite the country quite like cannabis reform.

The toothpaste is out of the tube, and you can’t put it back in. Legal cannabis is coming to the United States, sooner rather than later. Get ready.

J Smoke Wallin is CEO of Vertical Wellness, the leading hemp-based CBD company, and President of multi-state cannabis operator Vertical Companies.

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