It’s April 20, which means cannabis enthusiasts around the country are celebrating what Ronald Reagan once called “probably the most dangerous drug in the United States.”
Today, that remark seems pretty outdated. A full 37 states have legalized marijuana in some form (medically or recreationally). Eighteen states have legalized recreational marijuana. And an overwhelming majority of Americans support legalization. A 2021 Pew Research poll shows a staggering 91% of Americans say the drug should be legal for medical or recreational use.
But the U.S. has still not legalized marijuana at the federal level. Instead, the government has opted to leave the decision up to individual states. And while some lawmakers are pushing for national reform, they’re still facing stiff resistance.
On April 1 (thankfully, not a joke), the House passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act in a 220-204 vote. This legislation would decriminalize marijuana nationwide and eliminate criminal punishments for anyone who manufactures, distributes or possesses the drug. It would also establish a protocol for expunging previous convictions from people’s records and impose a sales tax on cannabis products.
The act passed the House last year but stalled in the Senate. And we’ll likely see the same result this year. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has been working with other Democratic senators to craft something similar to the House bill. It would take all Senate Democrats plus 10 Republicans to overcome the 60-vote hurdle needed to advance to a final vote. And given the GOP’s staunch resistance, it’s unlikely to happen.
So now that we’ve covered what’s happening with legalization at the federal level, let’s take a deep breath and dive into other marijuana news.
According to a new research paper, legalized marijuana is associated with a reduced use of prescription drugs for anxiety, depression and other health issues.
There have already been many studies highlighting the health benefits of CBD (cannabidiol) and medical marijuana. But this latest study, published in the journal Health Economics, focuses specifically on the impact of recreational legalization. The study found “significant reductions in the volume of prescriptions within the drug classes that align with the medical indications for pain, depression, anxiety, sleep, psychosis, and seizures” in states that legalized cannabis for adult use.
Given the already well-known benefits of medical marijuana, it’s not surprising that recreational legalization would help more people treat themselves. And given the exorbitant costs of healthcare in the U.S., who can blame them?
Marijuana sales in the U.S. grew 40% to reach $25 billion last year. And according to MJBizDaily, marijuana sales are expected to add $99 billion to the U.S. economy in 2022 — and more than $155 billion by 2026.
Retail sales are just one segment of the marijuana industry. There’s also agriculture, manufacturing, events, hospitality and more. The economic benefits of legalization cannot be overstated.
MJBizDaily also notes that the hemp industry is expected to contribute around $11 billion to the economy this year. Given all of hemp’s potential applications — including as a vegan alternative to the traditional horsehair wigs worn by barristers — its economic possibilities also seem promising.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams is determined to help his city reap the benefits of impending legalization. New York legalized adult recreational marijuana a year ago, but sales aren’t expected to start until later this year or early next year. In NYC alone, marijuana sales are expected to reach $1.3 billion in the first year.
Adams says he wants the city to promote the cannabis industry and help people from minority communities most affected by marijuana-related offenses to become marijuana entrepreneurs.
Today, Adams is set to propose that the city spend $4.8 million to reach out to those most impacted by the war on drugs. The war on drugs has spanned decades and left thousands incarcerated for marijuana possession and use — even today, while legal pot shops are emerging around the country.
Adams’ plan would help minority community members learn about the cannabis industry and set up their new small businesses. “Now is the time for our city to make proactive investments to ensure the people disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of these substances can reap the benefits of the new industry,” Adams said in a statement. Hear, hear.
The MORE Act isn’t the only piece of cannabis-related legislation that’s worth passing. Colorado State Treasurer Dave Young and Washington State Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti took to Twitter last week to urge the Senate to take action on the SAFE Banking Act.
The SAFE (Secure and Fair Enforcement) Banking Act — which would allow financial institutions to provide services to cannabis businesses — was first introduced in 2013. It’s been approved by the House six times since then, including this year. But it’s stuck once again in the Senate. (Sensing a theme here?)
Young and Pellicciotti are adamant that the act be passed rapidly. Without a way to safely store money, cannabis businesses are forced to keep a dangerous amount of cash on hand, which makes them vulnerable to theft. A recent series of cannabis store robberies in Washington state highlighted this exact problem.
“Colorado weed stores, along with other states with legal cannabis businesses, are headed into their busiest week of the year,” Young tweeted. “Yet these businesses must dangerously operate in a cash-based world. Let’s pass the #SAFEBankingAct this #fourtwenty.”
If you’re tired of reading about marijuana bills stalling in the Senate, you’re not alone. Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream innovator behind flavors like Half-Baked and Wake & “No Bake,” is fed up with Senate inaction.
In the days leading up to today’s unofficial cannabis holiday, the company launched a campaign in partnership with the ACLU urging ice cream lovers and cannabis proponents to tell the Senate to pass the MORE Act to legalize marijuana. The campaign encourages users to submit a pre-written letter to their senators that describes the harms of inconsistent state cannabis policies and the racist effects of prohibition and urges the Senate to take action.
Ben & Jerry’s has a history of calling out the racial inequity of cannabis prohibition and patchwork legalization. And it feels like a good note to end on. In a blog post titled “Let’s Be Blunt About Cannabis Justice,” the company wrote:
From 2001 to 2010, Black people were 273% more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people, despite using cannabis at similar rates. Now that state after state is legalizing cannabis, Black people are… 264% more likely to be arrested for possession.
…Black people are still way more likely than white people to be arrested in every part of the country, in dense cities and rural towns, everywhere — even in states that have legalized. We have to do better…
Want to feel really really good this 4/20? Then let’s make sure that legalization benefits all of us. That’ll turn 4/20 into a day that we all can celebrate.