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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Democrats’ focus on social justice marijuana bills has stymied progress on reform

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“The Republican Party is not going to have to steal cannabis policy fix from the Democrats, they just need to catch their stumble.”

By Don Murphy, Marijuana Leadership Campaign

Democrats have controlled both houses of Congress for nearly two years (the House of Representatives for four) and so far, advocates of cannabis policy reform have nothing to show for it. The green wave they sold us hasn’t been delivered yet. Unless “historic” letter bills and tweets count as victories…weed gets nothing.” Democrats have even failed to remove barriers to Washington, D.C. legalizing recreational marijuana sales as jurisdictions surrounding Maryland and Virginia prepare to do so .

Progressive advocacy got us nothing and progressive advocacy will get us nothing in a GOP-dominated House. The failure of the left to convince the right of the benefits of fully ending cannabis prohibition was demonstrated on election night when legalization efforts were defeated in the red states of Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota.

It’s time for a new approach. It’s time to admit that progressive is not selling, it is not a crumb and it is not a failure. Failure continues to trap our citizens as we debate who gets the spoils of the post-prohibition world.

The next Congress will be divided, but not necessarily deadlocked. The last time we passed any significant cannabis legislation was to adopt budget language to protect state medical programs from federal interference in 2014. The House was red, the Senate was blue.

Faced with a similar scenario, it is time to embrace gradualism and compromise. It’s time for a new strategy.

Advocates must stop ranting about polls. Polls don’t help where we need help. The polls don’t matter to the Republicans, in fact, they hurt them. Most GOP candidates need only win primaries where a higher percentage of voters oppose legalization. The only polls the GOP will be looking at are the results of failed legalization in Arkansas and the Dakota.

Advocates should stop talking about rationing the tax revenue it would generate, because most of it is directed at policies and programs that conservatives do not support. Talk about taxpayer money that will not be spent on arresting, prosecuting and imprisoning people for mere possession. Talk about how much tax healthy citizens can generate when they have jobs that match their skills and are not suppressed by drug convictions. And talk about the money we wouldn’t spend supporting those families with a drug conviction because mom or dad earn real “living” wages.

Speaking of jobs, we have to be talking about the hundreds of thousands of jobs in the legal cannabis industry. Every company from MSO to mom-and-pop should invite elected officials to tour their facilities and meet their employees, just as every business owner should. Unless elected officials know firsthand how legitimate the industry is, all they know is what they saw on The Wire. If lawmakers vote wrong, it’s because we haven’t shown them the truth. If we want to be treated like alcohol (a more harmful drug), we must act like alcohol.

A cannabis arrest is a “gateway” to the criminal justice system. It can destroy the family and contribute to the cycle of poverty. Cannabis stays in your system for a month, and the conviction stays on your record for life. It’s an economic death sentence.

The majority of Republicans in Congress know the drug war is a failure and will vote to end it. But as supporters of free market capitalism, they cannot support the big government, top-down alternatives that Democrats in the House and Senate are proposing. Higher taxes and stock-based organizations will not get a vote in a GOP-controlled House. It didn’t get a vote from the Democrats in the Senate, so why should we expect the Republicans to vote in the House?

Just as Republicans supported overturning Roe because he returned abortion policy decision to the states, they will support a similar federal stance on prohibition. Like Dobbs, but for drugs.

Time is running out for Senate Democrats to make real progress on ending the war on weed. The SAFE Banking Act languished in the Senate for two years while their leadership juggled defenders, gobbling up the clock crafting a sweeping bill that was dead on arrival.

The GOP won’t have to steal cannabis policy fix from the Democrats, they just need to catch their stumble. It would make the Republicans look good, while the Democrats look bad.

At a minimum, the next Congress could pass SAFE Banking with the support of pro-business and pro-law Republicans, not because it is a cannabis bill but because it is a banking bill and a public safety bill. SAFE can finally pass the Senate with the support of progressives due to the benefit it provides to small and minority-based businesses that are disproportionately affected by a lack of capital. Home professionals can adjust budget language to protect all legal cannabis consumers, not just patients. That would be more progress than Congress has made in nearly a decade, and by any measure a victory.

It’s not everything we’d like, but it’s nothing either.



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