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Last July, the world’s fastest woman, Sha’Carri Richardson, was banned from representing the United States in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics because cannabis was found in her system. Thereafter, her disqualification from competing sparked a worldwide debate on the subject of the legalization of outdated cannabis laws began. Although many countries have legalized recreational cannabis use, the United States has failed to act because of outdated mores.
As a reaction to the 1960s anti-establishment movement, where the nation’s youth openly indulged in recreational substances like cannabis and LSD, President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. This legislation established the federal drug classification schedule, which categorized certain drugs within five total groups based on their medical use and potentiality for abuse. Schedule 1 drugs lack medical use and are highly addictive; Schedule 5 drugs possess acceptable medical uses and lack significant abusive properties. In 1970, the government classified cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug while other narcotics like fentanyl, cocaine, codeine, and Xanax were classified as drugs with higher medical value. As it stands today, the federal government has not changed this law.
The consequences of this legislation encouraged federal legislators to push for “tough-on-crime” anti-drug legislation in the 1980s and ‘90s. During these years, Black families and communities were torn apart by increased incarceration due to these harsh laws. Millennials’ formative years were intertwined with the paradox of family-first political messaging in schools while families were being torn apart from the same government.
Now, almost a century later, the federal government is attempting to correct this injustice with the “Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.” If signed by President Joe Biden, the bill would federally decriminalize the possession of cannabis; provide a pathway for criminal expungement; allow the incarcerated to petition for resentencing; allow states to maintain authority and set cannabis policies within its borders; impact immigration; and remove collateral consequences for cannabis-based convictions. Although comprehensive, this legislation lacks an economic component and without economic safeguards for minority communities, major corporations will take advantage of this new gold rush and further widen the economic and educational gap between American communities. Moreover, economic gain and sustainability is the only real solution to decrease criminality in the long term. Social justice efforts that lack economic components only partially address social problems.
In the medical marijuana industry, states and businesses have already seen an increase in revenue. In 2020, MMI sales surpassed $60 million in New York while Florida saw over $350 million in sales. This shows us that state governments and MMI will benefit from the legalization of cannabis. Thirty-six states, the District of Columbia, and four U.S. territories have either decriminalized the possession and sale of cannabis or have medically or recreationally legalized cannabis for adult use. As a nation, the people have spoken regarding their preference to legalize cannabis and our national representatives should do the same. Legalization and decriminalization will be the most significant economic boon for our nation since the internet.
Moreover, decriminalization and legalization of cannabis allows southern states, like Florida, to engage in traditional agricultural commerce by retooling tobacco, orange and cotton farms to sustain outdoor/ indoor cannabis growth, which will cultivate an economic resurgence of southern agricultural dominance that has not been experienced in centuries. Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell represents a state where the majority of cannabis is grown in our country. Politically, not supporting this legislation harms Democrats and Republicans alike.
The legalization of cannabis is one of our nation’s most controversial subjects and intersects some of our nation’s most polarizing topics; however, if regulated properly, legal adult use and medicinal use will grow our economy exponentially. Our nation needs this economic surge coming out of COVID-19. We are witnessing each state exercise its authority as a laboratory of democracy to most effectively and efficiently navigate the social, political, criminal, and economic consequences of this topic. We must do our part to bring this issue to its natural conclusion and decriminalize cannabis and introduce it into our society free of stigma. This is the best chance our nation has to get cannabis reform passed; the only obstacle is political will. If we want more equitable treatment in business and safer communities, we must pass this legislation.
David Cannady, Esq. is the senior partner of Cannady & Associates, PLLC, a South Florida-based boutique law firm that specializes in Cannabis Law, Corporate Litigation, and Real Estate Law.