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Why Is It Taking So Long To Legalize Cannabis At The Federal Level In The US?

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Cannabis prohibition is one of the worst public policies in human history. It goes well beyond the negative impact that is experienced by the person subjected to an initial prohibition-based penalty. The negative impact lingers well after the person has paid their fine and/or served their jail sentence.

They have to carry the ‘cannabis scarlet letter’ for years into the future in many cases, and for some people, the designation of being a ‘cannabis criminal’ is something that they have to deal with forever. The designation ruins the person’s life by preventing them from getting jobs, housing, and can even prevent them from obtaining volunteer positions in the future. 

It’s like an anchor that keeps them from moving on with their lives, and it’s happened to countless people for many decades, which is beyond unfortunate. Yes, people can get the cannabis offense expunged from their record, however, it only happens after a judge approves the request (which they do not have to do) and the individual has paid a substantial sum of money. 

For many folks convicted of a cannabis offense obtaining an expungement is simply not an option. The financial hurdle is too great, and they often decide to just endure the negative fallout from having a cannabis conviction on their record because there’s no other viable option to do otherwise. It’s one of many reasons why cannabis prohibition needs to end immediately across the United States to ensure that no further harm is needlessly inflicted on cannabis consumers, many of which being patients who rely on medical cannabis.

Reform Continues To Spread At The State Level

The United States is in the midst of a cannabis policy reform revolution at the local level, with 18 states and Washington D.C. having passed adult-use cannabis legalization measures either at the ballot box or via legislative action since 2012. Regulation is clearly better than prohibition, with state-level cannabis legalization succeeding by virtually every measure. 

Despite all of those victories, the harms of cannabis prohibition still linger in too many states as well as at the federal level in the U.S. Federal cannabis prohibition is becoming less tenable with every passing year. Just this year alone three states have passed legalization measures – Virginia, New York, and New Mexico. Obviously, the year is only roughly 1/3rd of the way over, and it’s quite possible that more states could legalize cannabis for adult use in the coming months. Unfortunately, which side of a state border you live on still determines your fate if/when you are caught with cannabis, and that makes no sense.

As it stands right now, well over 40% of people in the United States live in a state which has legalized cannabis for adult use. All except two states (Nebraska and Idaho) have passed some type of medical cannabis measure, ranging from CBD-only legislation to comprehensive medical cannabis reform. When it comes to cannabis policy in the United States, geography means everything because of federal prohibition. When will that change and every adult in the United States be allowed to possess a personal amount of cannabis?

Executive Action Or Congress?

When it comes to ending federal cannabis prohibition in the United States, there are two avenues that can be pursued. The first is via executive action, with President Joe Biden hypothetically taking it upon himself to initiate a bureaucratic process to get cannabis removed from the Controlled Substances list. The Biden Administration has made it clear that this is not a priority, so no one should hold their breath waiting for executive action.

The second avenue for achieving an end to federal cannabis prohibition is via Congress. If there was enough political will in Congress to pass a legalization bill, that’s all it would take to end federal cannabis legalization. It’s a far-more straight path to legalization compared to executive action. Unfortunately, it’s yet to happen for some reason, even though support for national cannabis legalization is greater now than at any other time in United States history.

With that being said, recent comments made by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are encouraging. “I want to make my arguments to him, as many other advocates will,” Schumer stated in a recent interview with POLITICO regarding President Biden. “But at some point we’re going to move forward, period.”

Senator Schumer seems to recognize the obvious fact that cannabis policy reform is an extremely popular political issue, which is something that appears to be lost on the Biden administration for reasons unknown. In addition to being the right thing to do, pushing for cannabis legalization is also politically viable, and one would think that federal politicians would push hard for legalization, if for any reason to help boost their chances of staying in office. 

As of right now, federal legalization appears closer than it has since prohibition was first enacted in 1937, yet there’s no clear date for when it will finally happen. A significant amount of positive comments are being thrown around by federal politicians, however, actions speak louder than words. While we continue to wait for Congress to get their act together make sure to contact your federal officials and urge them to support sensible cannabis laws. Do your part!