Wednesday, May 2, 2018
The folks at the Center for American Progress have this new Issue Brief titled "Rethinking Federal Marijuana Policy." Here are parts of its recommendations:
Congress now should seriously consider proposals that lead to the legalization of marijuana. This is a time-consuming process that involves numerous issues, industries, and stakeholders, but the experiments in multiple states to liberalize marijuana laws provide a roadmap for the steps that the federal government should take toward legalization.
Any federal liberalization of marijuana must apply retroactively so as to fairly address the thousands of Americans whose life opportunities have been destroyed by federal marijuana convictions. A number of states across the country have been enacting legislation that would seal or expunge a larger number of criminal convictions, so people with records can more easily obtain jobs, get a loan, and overcome obstacles to leading a productive life after serving their sentence. States like Pennsylvania are passing legislation to make sealing records automatic in order to reduce the bureaucratic and administrative hurdles that often cause unnecessary and burdensome delays in the process. Congress should consider legislation that automatically and immediately seals federal marijuana convictions, especially for those convicted of simple possession.
Congress must consider ways to solve racial disparities that exist even in legal marijuana markets. While loosening state marijuana laws has resulted in lower arrest rates across all racial groups, black people are still more likely than other groups to be arrested for marijuana law violations. Furthermore, black people have been largely left out of the legal marijuana industry. One 2016 estimate concluded that fewer than three dozen marijuana dispensaries — or about 1 percent of all dispensaries in the United States — are black-owned. Congress must support, train, and license black entrepreneurs in order to ensure that jobs in this industry are also filled by people of color. This can be accomplished by following a model similar to the one proposed in Oakland, California, which recently established an equity program that sets aside half of all marijuana business permits for residents who have been targets of the war on drugs.
The fact that marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug establishes significant roadblocks for researchers to understand marijuana, its effects, its risks, and its potential benefits. Scientists are legally restricted in the types, quantity, and quality of the marijuana that may be used for research, preventing long-term, large-scale analyses required for evaluating drugs. The limited research conducted to date has supported the notion that marijuana has positive benefits and may be used to treat various medical conditions, including, but not limited to, chronic pain, muscle spasms, and nausea related to chemotherapy. However, experts and policymakers are locked in a Catch-22, making it difficult to answer the very questions necessary to understanding the full scope of marijuana’s effect on public health, which in turn could help determine marijuana’s placement on the drug schedule.
Federal marijuana legalization can facilitate job creation while significantly increasing tax revenue, and Congress should consider how to equitably maximize these economic benefits. A recent study found that legalizing marijuana nationwide could generate at least $132 billion in tax revenue between 2017 and 2025 as well as more than 1 million new jobs across the country. As states have increasingly legalized marijuana, the legal marijuana market in the United States has grown to $9.7 billion. Experts think this is a small fraction of the potential market since, last year, more than 4 million people used marijuana in states where it was legal, but 44 million people across the country consume marijuana products in a given year.