January 2018 broke with the news that anti-cannabis Attorney General Jeff Sessions threw out an Obama-era rule that guided the federal government from interfering in state laws legalizing pot.
Almost simultaneously, California moved to legalize recreational cannabis. Is it possible that Sessions rabid hatred of pot would cause him to interfere with states rights, something Republicans have traditionally been in favor of? Is it also possible that this move to enforce federal laws that prohibit marijuana consumption in states that have legalized the drug will spur faster legalization at the state level?
States Rush Toward Cannabis Legalization
The federal government still classifies marijuana as an illegal substance while the states have moved over the past two years to legalize its use for medicinal and recreational use. The Obama era dealt with this conflict by instructing feds to basically leave the states to the states and only enforce federal law in specific instances.
Currently, more than 29 states have some form of legalized marijuana laws.
In January, the Trump-era Republican Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, tossed out that rule of non-interference, leaving federal policy to-be-determined. This has created a wave of uncertainty in the fledgling pot industry.
But it’s also created new actions to speed marijuana legalization at the state level.
The Issue is the Green Stuff, and We Don’t Mean Pot
Interestingly, the effect of Session’s actions was swift; but not in the way that many expected. States are moving quickly now to legalize marijuana in order to capitalize on the income these businesses are generating.
Money Matters reports Colorado has applied $16 million toward loans and grants for affordable housing for their residents. This revenue is being generated for state economies at a time when federal financial support is at an all-time low. A recent Forbes article suggested that in the states that have legalized marijuana to date, $655 million in state taxes from retail sales have been generated in 2017 alone.
While the issue pushing legalization is the income that cash-strapped states have been generating from marijuana sales, there is a dual issue here; states can also save big money when stopping prosecution of non-violent marijuana offenses. Economists suggest the country could save more than $13.7 billion annually by not prosecuting marijuana offenses.
In the meantime, public support for marijuana legalization is at an all-time high of 64% according to a Gallup Poll.
Next Steps for State Laws
On the heels of Session’s announcement, lawmakers moved to introduce bills legalizing pot in Kentucky and New Hampshire. New Hampshire gave early approval to a new pot legalization bill. Vermont passed their own legalization law and the Governor has agreed to sign it. States like North Dakota, Massachusetts, and California are continuing business as usual despite Session’s grousing.
While the federal prosecution of marijuana offenses remains uncertain, states are continuing to march forward with their plans to legalize the plant. Whether these two opposing sides will come together to clash it out in the courts remains to be seen, but most believe this result will be inevitable.