It’s been said that it’s up to Republicans to legalize marijuana, and with cannabis businesses now generating significant income and generous tax revenue for the majority of states, it’s not surprising that opinions are changing. Federal legalization might have a better chance of happening than ever.
In fact, it could be argued that the signs show federal marijuana legalization could happen sooner rather than later. Let’s take a closer look at five of those signs.
1. More Republicans (and Democrats) Support Marijuana Legalization
Five years ago, a Republican Senator, Congressman, or Governor who vocally supported marijuana legalization would find himself or herself in a very, very small minority. Ten years ago, it would have been political suicide. However, in the past two or three years, things have changed dramatically.
Today, Republican leaders are changing their stances on marijuana on what seems like a daily basis. From former Republican House speaker John Boehner joining the board of directors for Acreage Holdings to current Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announcing his support for ending federal cannabidiol prohibition and current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell supporting the legalization of hemp, the opinions of key politicians are changing.
To understand just how big the Republican shift is, consider the Republican Party of Texas convention in June of this year when nearly 10,000 delegates voted to approve platform planks that endorse marijuana decriminalization, medical marijuana, and industrial hemp. In addition, the delegates called for the federal government to reclassify cannabis so it’s no longer considered a Schedule 1 substance.
If that evidence of changing tides in the Republican Party isn’t enough, comments and actions from the White House and Trump’s aides and allies provide more indications that marijuana legalization at the federal level just may happen sooner than you might think.
President Trump has stated that he believes states should implement their own marijuana programs without federal interference. Earlier this month, Trump’s former White House Communications Director, Anthony Scaramucci, said he thinks the President will legalize marijuana after the mid-term elections, and in October, Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher said he expected laws to change within a year.
Led by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, Democrats are already pushing bills for decriminalization while other bills are pushing for federal legalization, and this week, the last young Democrat in Congress to publicly oppose marijuana legalization, Representative Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts, changed his mind. With more Republicans (and Democrats) getting on board, it seems like just a matter of time until big changes come.
2. Hemp Could Be Legal by the End of the Year
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Hemp Farming Act of 2018, which supports the legalization of industrial hemp, is being pushed by the Republican-controlled Senate with a goal to have it passed before the end of this year. For decades, hemp has been tied directly to the forms of cannabis that include THC, the constituent that causes hallucinogenic effects, despite the fact that hemp does not contain enough THC to create those effects.
Removing hemp from the federal list of controlled substances would allow it to be grown and sold like any other agricultural commodity. Rather than importing hundreds of millions of dollars of industrial hemp from other countries, farmers and manufacturers across the U.S. could build businesses and create jobs if hemp is de-scheduled.
Bottom-line, it’s highly unlikely that marijuana would be decriminalized, de-scheduled, or legalized until industrial hemp is, and as Marijuana Moment reported, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has already stated that cannabidiol (CBD) should be in the least restrictive drug category. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already declared that CBD should be de-scheduled since it doesn’t even meet the criteria for federal control. In other words, the future of industrial hemp’s legalization looks good.
Money plays a factor in when and if marijuana will be legalized at the federal level in a few ways – from where money is coming from to where it’s going. First, consider the size of the marijuana market. As Bloomberg reports, sales in Colorado already top $1 billion per year. A study from New Frontier Data estimated that if marijuana is legalized at the federal level, the industry could generate annual tax revenue of at least $10 billion.
States that have already legalized medical and/or adult-use marijuana have enjoyed the tax income from the industry, and it’s not a big leap to understand why legalization and the money that comes from it could be enticing at the federal level.
In addition, politicians and political action committees are starting to receive sizeable donations from the cannabis industry, and in the past year, these donations have shifted largely to Republican candidates who support legalization.
While still much smaller than the donations from Big Pharma, the tobacco industry, and other big industry donors, the cannabis industry is likely to grow as powerful and influential in time. In addition to affecting campaign financing, the cannabis industry’s lobbyists are becoming more influential in Washington. The money and the influence it buys can’t be ignored for long.
4. The People Want It
An October 2018 Gallup Poll found that 66% of Americans support legalizing marijuana, and 94% of Americans support medical marijuana. Specifically, 53% of Republicans overall support marijuana legalization, while 75% of Democrats and 71% of Independents are in favor of it.
Legalization is particularly popular among younger voters. As Newsweek points out, the younger demographic is a critical audience to the Republican Party, which needs the support of diverse voters to survive.
In the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump among 18-29 year old voters by an 18-point margin. Considering that nearly 88% of millennials believe marijuana is safer than alcohol, the writing is on the wall. The tide has changed, we’ve passed the tipping point, and there is no going back.
5. Marijuana is Legal in States with Considerable Power in Congress
As ABC News reported earlier this year, “Marijuana has become legal in large states that are represented by powerful members of Congress such as California, Colorado, and Florida.” In other words, for a growing number of representatives in Congress, the stakes in supporting a thriving marijuana industry are increasing rapidly.
Not only are voters in those states likely already pushing their representatives to make pro-marijuana decisions but also, the increasing money behind the marijuana industries in those states is surely affecting fundraising and lobbying.
As a result, we’re likely to see these representatives publicly acting in a more pro-cannabis manner in the near future, which will inevitably affect decisions at the highest levels of the federal government. Decriminalization and legalization at the federal level seems like natural next steps.
This month, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in an interview on CNBC, “There is probably going to be a policy reckoning around [marijuana] at some point in the future.” In the same interview, he said, “Obviously, it’s happening at the state level, and I think there’s an inevitability that it’s going to happen at the federal level at some point soon.”
Of course, there is no way of knowing what that “policy reckoning” will be, but based on the signs we’re seeing in Washington and beyond, a policy reckoning is long past due. The marijuana industry and 66% of Americans are hoping it’s a reckoning that brings about marijuana legalization.
Susan Gunelius, Lead Analyst for Cannabiz Media and author of Marijuana Licensing Reference Guide: 2017 Edition, is also President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company offering, copywriting, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, and strategic branding services. She spent the first half of her 25-year career directing marketing programs for AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more as well as small businesses around the world. Susan has written 11 marketing-related books, including the highly popular Content Marketing for Dummies, 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing, and she is a popular marketing and branding keynote speaker. She is also a Certified Career Coach and Founder and Editor in Chief of Women on Business, an award-winning blog for business women. Susan holds a B.S. in marketing and an M.B.A in management and strategy.