Is the US set to Federally Decriminalise Cannabis?

by Cameron Akerman-Roberts

There has been a remarkable turn of events in US drug legislation this week, as Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation that would decriminalise cannabis at a federal level. 

Titled The States Reform Act, this legislation aims to overcome the current legal threats facing many cannabis businesses. The hopes are that this “compromise” will allow cannabis related businesses to operate in the same manner as the alcohol industry. Moreover, much like alcohol this proposal would prohibit cannabis use by those under the age of 21. 

While cannabis is legal for medical use in 36 states, and for adult use in 18 states, it still remains illegal under federal law. This not only threatens cannabis businesses, but also companies associated with them, as well as the people on the ground working for them. 

At present there is a threat to banks, where under current federal legislation banking money from the cannabis industry may be faced with federal money laundering charges. In turn this is deterring banks from working with cannabis businesses. Moreover, this has meant that cannabis businesses are forced to operate a cash only business. This has subsequently led to vast amounts of cash being held at small unguarded dispensaries, placing business, their staff and customers in danger.

Reforms proposed under The States Reform Act will allow cannabis businesses to legally and securely bank their money, without the risk of facing federal charges. Which will ultimately protect businesses, banks and the public from the ongoing issues highlighted. 

The proposal also aims to address the social injustice of cannabis convictions, previously covered by Volteface. Representative of South Carolina, Nancy Mace, supports this bill emphasising that this legislation would aim to support the individuals and communities disproportionately impacted by the probation of cannabis. This would be accomplished through expunging the records of convicted non-violent, cannabis related offenders. 

This outdated federal law continues to damage the lives and reputations of many cannabis users. In 2019 there were more than 1.5 million arrests, of which 1 in 3 were non-violent, low level cannabis possession offences. This is just one example of the urgent need for reform, as many continue to be incarcerated for possession of a drug which is now a recognised medication in the majority of states. 

Furthermore, the federal decriminalisation of cannabis would additionally free people who use cannabis from the fear and threat of the three strike rule. While many states no longer have the three strikes law ratified, it still remains active at a federal level. Since its introduction in the 90’s the controversial law has fed mass and hyper-incarceration, as well as perpetuating the harms of criminalisation through mandatory sentencing. 

Unfortunately, much like in the UK, American politics are incredibly prone to partisanship, and therefore the ideological stagnation that comes with it. Despite this Republican bill supporting the four key elements of the More Act, proposed by the Democrats, partisan bias and loyalty mean that this bill may fail to pass. The success of the bill is further thrown in danger by the fact that it would impose a 3% excise tax on cannabis, compared to an increasing Senate tax proposal that would top out at around 25%. 

While the future legal status of cannabis at a federal level remains in question, the success of cannabis reform across many states is undeniable. For example, just two years on from legalisation in the state of Oregon, a $13 million loan which covered the costs of legalising is already being paid back. Additionally, the state is set to provide $85 million in funding from cannabis sales for various programmes. 

This $85 million of tax revenue can be used to give back to society, rather than the state losing out on valuable tax revenue, whilst simultaneously spending astronomical amounts of public money failing to combat supply within the illicit market. 

This set against the backdrop of promising future profits for legalisation paints a hopeful, but still uncertain, future for the cannabis industry in the US.    

While this is a fantastic cannabis reform development for the US, it once again testifies how outdated and short sighted the UK’s drug legislation has become. In the US we are witnessing profits such as the $85 million taxable profits previously mentioned in Oregon, while sadly in the UK we continue to waste taxpayers money fighting a lost war against a recognised lifesaving medication.

This piece was written by Cameron Akerman-Roberts, tweets @akermancameron

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