Midterm elections swept through land last November, sparking a wave of change across the nation. While the parties may identify as red and blue, there is a sea of green coming to Congress this year. Ironically enough, the bill, which could change the playing field for the cannabis industry is the aptly, almost flippantly named, H.R. 420.
Although 2018 proved to be a generous year for cannabis reform, what are the chances that 2019 will be the turning point for federal legalization? Many proponents have high hopes.
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What is H.R. 420?
Stated clearly in its name, H.R. 420 is a bill intended to "Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act," and it intends to just that. The bill was introduced on January 9th by House Representative, Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a well-known proponent for cannabis legalization, who stated in an interview, "While the bill number may be a bit tongue-in-cheek, the issue is very serious. Our federal marijuana laws are outdated, out of touch, and have negatively impacted countless lives. Congress cannot continue to be out of touch with a movement that a growing majority of Americans support. It’s time to end this senseless prohibition."
The bill provides much hope for the budding industry. While few expect the law to gain traction, if it does move forward, the cannabis industry and those in it will get a considerable reprieve from the gray legal in which they currently operate. There are several key benefits to this bill including:
- Changing of the Guard – Most importantly, the bill removes the authority over the substance from the hands of the DEA and gives regulatory authority to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, more commonly known as the ATF.
- Ending Banking Restrictions – if the bill moves forward, cannabis-based businesses can look forward to finally gaining access to traditional banking and financial solutions, ultimately making the industry safer. Don't expect less banking regulations. However, the government is still going to want to track every dollar coming from the industry.
- Allows Uninhibited Research – US-based, medical and clinical research is about seven decades behind. By removing DEA authority and removing cannabis from the list of scheduled substances, universities and research facilities will have unbridled access to do the necessary research on the plant.
While Blumenauer has always been an outspoken advocate for cannabis legalization, and this is his third attempt at changing the way Washington views cannabis. Being the first state in the US to decriminalize marijuana in 1973, Oregon has always been a little ahead of the curve on ending prohibition. In fact, Oregon frequently challenges the federal government stance on controlled substances. Lawmakers there recently revealed they are looking for a solution for an overabundance of professionally-cultivated cannabis. Oregon Senator, Floyd Prozanski, a Democrat out of Eugene, is planning to reintroduce a bill which would allow Oregon-based cannabis operations to export their product to adjacent legal states.
Clearly, federal legalization and removal from the controlled substances list would open up the door for a more robust, interstate market in the United States, and help Oregon disburse its supply.
More Support than Ever
Almost 93 percent of Americans approve of cannabis medical use, and 62% support cannabis legalization across the board for adult use. Additionally, since Democrats have control of the House and Republican support is growing (albeit, slowly), this is the most "cannabis-friendly" Congress we've ever had. With the government shutdown in full swing, many believe the bill will die before it ever has a chance.
Yet, ask any lobbyist, politicians can be bought.
How Far Are We Willing to Go for Legalization?
Although many believe the bill won't make it to a vote, the federal financial gain alone may motivate lawmakers to reconsider their stance. A study released in 2018 by New Frontier Data revealed full federal legalization in all 50 states would likely result in 106 billion dollars in annual tax revenue and more than one million jobs nationally by 2025. That kind of tax revenue could easily pay for Trump's future tourist attraction at the Mexico border – several times over.
But then the question becomes, how far are cannabis consumers and advocates willing to go to gain federal legalization? Already, with individual state taxes paying for homeless shelters, school programs, scholarships, and even road repairs, many veteran marijuana advocates still refuse to shop legally merely because it goes against the historical, anti-government subculture. One can only wonder if funding frivolous government expenditures will ultimately turn cannabis consumers off.
Without a doubt, cannabis and politics will continue to be a hot topic throughout the United States this year. While only time will tell what 2019 has in store for the future of the cannabis industry, H.R. 420 at least provides a glimmer hope and a little bit of comic relief in a stressful political environment.