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.