Tokin' Bowls With Republicans

There’s an odd smell wafting out of The Swamp that is  Washington DC these days.  I’m not talking the pre-summer rot that is  typical of the lower Potomac at this time of year.  I’m talking about  liberty, individual choice.  I’m talking about marijuana.

Back in July of 2017,  our elfin Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, announced the Department of  Justice was going to crack down on weed users, regardless of whether the  states in which they lived had legalized it. He even announced a  greater use of civil asset forfeiture in order to combat marijuana’s  “connection to violent crime”. 

Even law enforcement groups  disagreed with this direction.  According to Ronal Serpas, the former  superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department and co-chairman of  Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, marijuana  ‘[is] not the drug that’s driving violent crime in America…“That’s not  the drug with which we see so much death and destruction on the streets  of America. Crack and powdered cocaine, heroin and opioids is where  we’re seeing people die on street corners fighting over territory or  control.”

A lot of civil libertarians were concerned that Sessions’ decision would set back the cause of legalization decades.

However, there’s a new smoke blowing these days. 

In  the last few weeks, we’ve seen Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell,  introduced a new Hemp Farming Act.  This bill would remove hemp, the  form of cannabis that doesn’t produce as much of the psychotropic  compound, THC, from the Controlled Substances Act.

 According to Forbes “In addition to legalizing hemp under federal law, the Hemp Farming Act  of 2018 would remove restrictions on banking access, water rights and  other roadblocks that farmers and processors currently face.”

This  is actually pretty huge on the face of it. One of the biggest problems  people who produce hemp and hemp-based products have is the banking  restrictions.  Currently, large companies like Visa and American Express  are prohibited from doing business with hemp producers. This has also  been a problem for people in fully legal states who want to get into the  legal marijuana growing and production business.

Simply put, if  you restrict a business’s access to credit, or force them to live in an  all-cash world, you create an artificial barrier to entry that shouldn’t  be there in the first place for a legal business.

A few days after McConnell announce his bill, former House Speaker John Boehner,  announced he was going to serve on the board of Acreage Holdings, a  company that cultivates, processes and dispenses cannabis in 11 U.S.  states.  His joining the board comes nine years after he said he was  “unalterably opposed” to legalization. 

Hmmm.  Legal weed just got some major DC stroke.

And  finally, last week, right before Trump announced he was going to bomb  Syria, he announced that he would back congressional efforts to protect  states' rights to legal marijuana.  That announcement, coupled with the  fact that he wasn’t notified beforehand, probably didn’t make Jeff  Sessions feel very secure in his job.

To be fair to Trump, during  the 2016 Presidential campaign, he did say he considered marijuana  legalization to be an issue for the states—(along with Ted Cruz, Rand  Paul, and a number of others).

So, why now?  Did the GOP suddenly  wake up to the futility of prohibition and realize they needed to defend  states and individual rights?

Maybe.  But, this is DC we’re  talking about.  Liberty doesn’t carry cash, and the only currency more  valuable than money, is that of influence.  And you can’t buy influence  without a lot of cash (or votes).

No, I think it’s a little less  idealistic than freedom.  Let’s look at three possible reasons why the  sudden interest in legalizing the Devil’s Lettuce.

First, we may be at a critical mass in terms of public acceptance of marijuana use.  As of this year, there are 29 states that have legalized marijuana for medical use, with nine of them  legalizing it for recreational use as well.  Given the fact that these  29 states represent well over half the US population, more people are  getting used to the notion that there really isn’t such a thing as  Reefer Madness.  Over half the population—that’s a lot of voters.

Besides,  if Colorado is any indicator, after five years of full legalization,  the state has actually seen a significant drop-off in teen pot use.  And that’s probably a good thing.

I  think the second reason we are seeing a shifting of attitudes towards  legalization is simply the realization that prohibition doesn’t work,  and we need to prioritize our resource allocation. If the government  wants to end the scourge of opioids, then it can’t be spending all its  time busting weed users.

Recent studies like one from the University of Kentucky show that in states where medical marijuana is legal, there was a 5.8%  lower rate of opioid prescribing.  In states with legal recreational  marijuana the opioid prescribing rate was 6.3% lower.

If the  President and his team is really serious about ending the “opioid  crisis”, wouldn’t it just make sense to not waste resources in states  that don’t seem to have as great a problem?

Finally, there’s a  confluence of interest now with Big Agriculture, Big Pharma, and Big  Booze.  Big Ag is looking for some subsidies and research grants.  Big  Pharma is looking for research grants (and is terrified of opioid  product liability lawsuits), and Big Booze realizes that by the proper  application of influence, they can have a piece of the distribution  action.

Think of the possibilities!  A company can get into the  marijuana growing business, partner with either a pharma company to  create pot-ceuticals, or a big booze company to distribute their  product.  It can be a complete vertical integration.  Farm to table!   You get the idea.

How much money are we talking about here?  Well, Big Pharma donated nearly $70 million to Congressional races in 2016.   Big Booze donated about $25 million in 2016, and Big Ag donated about $115 million in 2016.  Over $200 million went to Washington from these three industries. 

That’s a lot of rolling papers, if you get my drift.

And as we all know, members of both political parties are always following the money.

So,  watch for more of this.  You’ll get the standard message of “supporting  the little guy (farmer, hemp producer)”, or acknowledging that  attitudes have changed, or saying that perhaps it’s time to look at  alternatives to opioids.

But really, it’s all about the money.   But hey, regardless of the reason, if it leads to giving people more  freedom and choices, then I am all for it.

The Pursuit of Happiness

The Pursuit of Happiness

Ken Webster Jr is a talk radio personality and producer from Houston, TX. He started his career in Chicago on the Mancow show and has since worked at dozens of radio stations all over the country. He’s currently the host of Pursuit of Happiness... Read more


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