The Fight for Weed

By Bob Moss, Principal, National Director of Governmental Affairs for Cohn Reznick

For those of you that remember the 1971 top pop song, “I Feel the Earth Move” by Carole King, it was also in 1971 that President Nixon announced the War on Drugs, which classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. Forty seven years later it seems the times are changing.  In the White House, marijuana has been acknowledged from “I did not inhale” (1992 President Bill Clinton) to 2006 with President Obama –“I inhaled. Frequently…That was the point.”

In April, former House Speaker John Boehner, who once said he was opposed to decriminalizing marijuana laws, joined a board of directors for a cannabis company with an eye on rolling back federal regulations. These advocates state that their goal is to end federal marijuana enforcement and allow states to set their own marijuana policies without federal interference, not necessarily legalize it nationally.

This may change the way the industry and its marijuana campaign dollars are spent as well; with more money going to Republicans with the belief they support state’s rights more than the opposing party. But recent congressional action on the hill has been largely absent from garnering any Republican support. The “Marijuana Justice Act” (S1689) introduced in the U.S. Senate by Cory Booker last year, and the companion house bill H.R. 4815 introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee this year, have no Republican co-sponsors to date. This legislation amends the substance control act by removing marijuana from Schedule 1, and eliminates criminal penalties for an individual who imports, exports, manufactures, distributes, or possesses with intent to distribute marijuana.

Even with the changing viewpoint on marijuana legalization, there are some rather large opponents actively lobbying to keep marijuana out of reach. You may not be surprised by some of them, like the alcohol/beer lobby or big PhRMA (flashback 1990’s pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical industry that patients would not become addicted to opioid pain relievers), but private prison corporations are in the mix as well, providing a significant amount of campaign dollars to lawmakers.

But the evolution of marijuana continues. Former Speaker Boehner said his thinking has evolved. “I have concluded descheduling the drug is needed so that we can do research and allow VA to offer it as a treatment option in the fight against the opioid epidemic that is ravaging our communities,” he tweeted recently.

It may be slow, but the earth is moving.

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