What's Next for Marijuana Legalization in the US
Legal weed is on its way to becoming a $9 billion market. Can states-and the federal government-continue to ignore its economic benefits?
While the federal government still considers marijuana to be a dangerous drug, the rest of America isn’t so crass. Five more states just legalized the leaf in Tuesday’s election, making it where one in every three Americans now lives in a state where marijuana is no longer bound by prohibition.
Some believe that such a substantial victory means that cannabis reform is poised for more progress in the coming year. We’re talking about more states with influence putting pot laws on the books and, perhaps, even a situation where Congress is finally forced to take a careful look at the issue. Although there is still a great deal of uncertainty about how this could or will shake out, you can bet there is plenty on the horizon for marijuana legalization in the United States.
One thing you can almost count on is New York finally working toward a fully legal market. Although lawmakers haven’t been able to come to terms on it for the past couple of years, New Jersey’s newfound legal status might pressure them to take another look. Voters in the Garden State overwhelmingly approved a measure on Tuesday that makes the cultivation and sale of cannabis a fully legal industry. If New York doesn’t do the same, the state will be forced to contend with interstate drug trafficking, and ultimately exhaust police resources needed for violent crimes.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo knows this is true. He told public radio station WAMC earlier this week that he believes legislators are going to have to find the inspiration to approve pot legalization in 2021 or else. More than anything, he said, the state needs the tax revenue from the cannabis industry to help repair the economic downtrodden brought on by the coronavirus.
“I think this year it is ripe, because the state is going to be desperate for funding, even with [Joe] Biden, even with stimulus, even with everything else, we’re still going to be desperate for funding — and it’s also the right policy,” he said.
The recent cannabis victories in Arizona, Montana, Mississippi and South Dakota will also warm neighboring states to the possibility of marijuana legalization, as well. We anticipate there will be a slew of pot-related proposals introduced by state legislators in the coming months and into next year.
But the biggest question about the future of marijuana is when will Uncle Sam make the call to legalize nationwide?
Well, that could be awhile.
Even though we still don’t know for sure who will lead the U.S. for the next four years, that’s okay. Because the outcome of the presidential election doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of marijuana reform. Neither Donald Trump nor Biden supports the legalization of weed. Trump still thinks the issue should be left up to the states, while Biden, a hardcore drug warrior back in the day, doesn’t believe establishing a taxed and regulated system is the right way to go. Instead, he has agreed to work on some sort of decriminalization measure — one that would eliminate the criminal penalties for small-time pot offenders.
While it sounds like a good first step, it wouldn’t necessarily bring about substantial change. It would still be up to the states to decide whether to ease their pot laws. Fortunately, it’s looking like Biden is destined to become the next president of the U.S.. So we will likely hear more about his federal decriminalization plan in the next few months. Unfortunately, he might not have the clout to get it done.
We still don’t know whether the Democrats or Republicans are going to control Congress. As it stands, the Democrats dominate the House, but the battle for the Senate is a near draw. If the Republicans take control, marijuana reform will be in bad shape for the next several years. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was just reelected, and he has sabotaged every marijuana-related measure that has crossed his desk. Even if House Democrats work with Biden to decriminalize marijuana, it’s possible and highly likely that those efforts will be futile once they reach the Senate.
That is unless by some miracle the Democrats end up winning control of both Houses. If that happens, we would undoubtedly see major progress for marijuana reform at the national level. It’s even possible that congressional leaders could convince Biden to go along with a more comprehensive plan during his administration. That could mean nationwide legalization before 2025.
For now, however, we wait. Regardless of what happens with the federal government, rest assured more states will get on board with legalization starting next year. Some analysts predict that legal weed is on its way to becoming a $9 billion market. So, not many states will be able to ignore the economic benefits too much longer. And by all accounts, neither will the federal government.