The War on Drugs didn’t end in 2020, but the rations are running dry and the ranks are rapidly dwindling for the Prohibition army that has been beaten to a bloody pulp on the cannabis front by us, the Drug Enjoyer Resistance.
As of Election Day 2020, cannabis has now been legalized for recreational adult-use (21+) in 15 states plus Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital. 20 more states have passed laws allowing the formation of medical cannabis markets, seven others have stopped short of that and only offer CBD-based options, and two more have not formed any legal marketplaces for the plant but have decriminalized low-level possession of it. Six states (Idaho, Wyoming, Kansas, Tennessee, Alabama, and South Carolina) offer safe haven to weed haters having passed no laws to protect the plant or the people who choose to use it.
The momentum behind the cannabis legalization movement is undeniable as more and more Americans come to the realization that nearly everything they have been told about the plant has been a lie. Today, nearly a third of all Americans (93 million people) live in a state with some form of legal/regulated cannabis available from a state-sanctioned storefront.
Once high-density states like New York get their shit together, that number will shoot upward toward the levels that we see in nationwide polling on whether or not cannabis ought to be legal across the country – 67% of those polled say yes it should.
New York is just one state feeling the immense peer pressure from neighbors who have established regulated cannabis markets already, and one of several that is expected to pursue more comprehensive cannabis reform in the new year.
However, for the first time in our lifetimes, the debate over whether or not to legalize weed in 2021 will not only be fought at the state and local levels but now we have an incoming presidential administration that is fueled by progressive demands for reform from the top down.
Though the fate of the overachieving MORE Act is still very much up in the air, the fact that it passed a full floor vote in the United States Congress is remarkable and gives the new incoming president a mandate that his own party wants to see the federal government get in on cannabis reform.
Though Kamala Harris and Joe Biden hardly seem like the heroes we need in a time like this, they have both shown a willingness to flex toward justice when it comes to weed. So, let’s push them!
We have covered these topics individually before but since we know that Kamala and Joe definitely read Beard Bros articles, we want to run down a list of the different ways that different states have so far flubbed their opportunities to blaze a proper trail for Uncle Sam to follow.
Learn from these mistakes, lawmakers, because we refuse to repeat them.
EQUALITY ≠ EQUITY
One of the most disappointing aspects of state-level cannabis reform has been the ass-backwards way that most states have approached the crucial need for social equity in their upstart cannabis markets.
Social equity is a multifaceted puzzle that should not only ensure that the folks most negatively affected by the War on Drugs be allowed to participate in the new marketplace, but that their communities also be first in line to benefit from these new laws.
So far, nobody has gotten it right.
Don’t get us wrong, there are some amazing individuals and groups (We see you, Amber Senter! We see you, Nina Parks!) tackling this issue but most of the people in power are just now finally asking people of color for input on these programs.
Real, transformative social equity must be a foundational plank in any state or federal level cannabis reform package and if the goal is to help the disenfranchised, put them in power!
DUDE, WHERE’S MY COMPASSION?
Look, we get it Uncle Sam. You want that tax revenue. You need it. There’s almost nothing you wouldn’t do to get it. That is a level of addiction that us cannabis consumers cannot relate to, but still we empathize. States are already imposing taxes on cannabis at sky-high rates unseen in any other industry, often stacking sales tax, excise tax, local taxes and probably a couple taxes on the taxes.
The MORE Act, as currently written, would slap another 5% federal sales tax on all cannabis sold in the U.S., in addition to the exorbitant state and local taxes.
Whether the MORE Act passes or not, it is inevitable that the Feds will pinch the tax sack when the time comes and while we aren’t happy about it, we accept that reality.
So, in the spirit of acceptance, these out of touch old lawmakers need to accept the fact that there are many folks who could benefit from the cannabis plant but cannot afford to, as well as the fact that there are plenty of cultivators, extractors, manufacturers, and retailers who are willing and able to provide excess product to such a cause… if only the government would let them.
It’s a weird thing, isn’t it? The government gets mad when you give things to people who have nothing. I guess it makes them look bad.
California is a perfect example of how starched suits in Sacramento got so busy counting their projected cannabis revenue, they forgot about one of the deepest, strongest, most essential roots of the cannabis culture – compassion.
Sure, subsequent legislation patched the holes that Prop 64 left open, but it is still less than ideal.
Again, there are some inspiring groups and individuals out there going against the grain to get weed to those in need, but it should be as simple as growing too many tomatoes in the garden and gifting the excess to your tomato-less neighbors.
Lawmakers love to bust out their favorite buzzkill term – DIVERSION – anytime we bring up COMPASSION. As though licensees who have their entire financial lives riding on a regulated market are going to game the right to give away weed by actually selling it on the streets. The risk far, far outweighs the reward in that strawman scenario.
You’re going to get your money, let us return to our roots.
NO VETERAN LEFT BEHIND
We’d like to assume that the moment the federal government removes the cannabis plant from the Controlled Substances Act completely, that the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) will cut the bullshit and finally embrace the plant as a potential form of therapy for our military veteran community.
The statistics on veteran suicide rates are horrific, yet have been relegated to just that – a statistic – for far too many people, including our top lawmakers. It stands to reason that a significant number of these suicides can be avoided if VA docs would stop prescribing such toxic concoctions of prescription pharmaceuticals – many of which can be safely and naturally replaced by cannabis.
The tired excuse that the VA has fallen back on for far too long is the Schedule I status of the plant at the federal level and so while we’d like to assume that de-scheduling would spark a change, it will likely take more advocacy and demands from the cannabis movement to ensure that our veterans can enjoy the same rights as their friends, families, and neighbors who they served to protect.
CLEAN SLATE CLUB
Another topic that just sort of slipped through the cracks in early regulated cannabis markets was the awkwardness that arose when us commonfolk pointed out to the powers that be that it is beyond fucked up to have people hamstrung their entire lives with petty weed-related convictions on their records while dudes in suits were raking in profits by playing the same game once it got safe.
The same argument can be made, even more forcibly, about the tens of thousands of Americans serving prison time for non-violent cannabis charges while licensed companies set their sights on vertical integration and landing on the stock exchange.
Fortunately, we have seen some significant action on that first problem. Expungement efforts in cannabis-legal states have led to hundreds of thousands of cannabis-related felonies being dropped to misdemeanors, and misdemeanors being wiped off of criminal records altogether.
In Cali, for example, Prop 64 mandated that these efforts be made. The problem was, and is, the time being taken to implement them. Non-profit groups interested in the cause have created computer algorithms that can literally do this work in a matter of seconds, so there is no excuse to have any of those charges still lingering for anyone as the state’s regulated market enters its fourth full year in operation.
Unfortunately, the appetite that lawmakers appear to have for making right their past wrongs seems to end at the prison gates. While 2020 saw an inspiring number of our Cannabis POWs released early from their incarceration, that had more to do with a global pandemic than it did a global cannabis movement.
We do not see how the federal government can “legalize weed” and still use our tax dollars to keep anyone locked up over crimes that would now be considered good business.
Free them all.
COPS CAN’T HAVE CANNABIS CASH
Pretty simple. No more funneling cannabis revenue to law enforcement. Period. Somehow you managed to outfit every podunk cop shop with enough special forces gear to look like a Call of Duty cosplay convention, all without our dollars.
Cops can find ways to do their jobs without taking paychecks from the culture that they ravaged for decades.
Using funds from the regulated market to persecute the traditional market does not lend credence or respect to the regulated market, it breeds contempt.
While we’re at it… does it strike anyone else as hypocritical that millions of dollars in cannabis tax revenue will go to repairing schools, but pretty much every market refuses to allow any sort of commercial cannabis operation to exist within 1000’ of their beneficiaries.
If we are such a bad influence, maybe they can get their money elsewhere as well.
Are we advocating for dispensaries next door to high schools? Of course not. But if you start dropping 1000’ radius zones around every school (and church, and daycare, and rehab) on a map of Anytown, USA, you quickly realize that the overlap makes life harder than necessary for legit cannabis businesses.
THE RIGHT TO FARM
“The right to farm. The right to grow your own food. The right to grow your own medicine. You would think that those are fundamental rights.” So said longtime cannabis activist and Emerald Triangle farmer Swami Chaitanya in a recent Zoom sesh.
Yeah, you’d think.
However, the state of Washington still will not allow its residents to grow their own cannabis at home, despite the fact that they were among the very first to blaze the trail to recreational legalization way back in 2014.
Fast forward six years – the most progressive six years in cannabis reform history – and we see New Jersey follow that same lame path. The state will establish a taxed and regulated marketplace in the coming year, but residents of the Garden State will not have the right to have their own cannabis garden. In fact, it will be a felony if they get caught!
This is unacceptable.
Even states that do allow for home grows often place such burdensome restrictions on doing so that it doesn’t make sense for the average consumer. Canopy restrictions, mandates to grow indoors only, ridiculous plant count limits – these hurdles and more serve to discourage those curious about cultivation.
That is intentional. They can’t tax your homegrown weed, right?
Again, they are going to rake in literal billions of dollars from a market that didn’t exist a decade ago. Do they need every dollar?
THE RIGHT TO BE A FIRST-CLASS CITIZEN
If the federal government plans to “legalize” cannabis, then the faded but persistent negative stigma surrounding the plant needs to go up in smoke forever. From lawmakers, to law enforcement, to law-abiding bootlickers, they all need to start treating us like the decent human beings that we are.
We refuse to trade watered-down legalization for roadside cannabis sobriety tests. Fuck off.
We demand equal access to banking and insurance services, regardless of our role in the marketplace.
We demand that past crimes or cases not be used to discriminate against employment in the marketplace.
We demand protection of our 2nd Amendment rights as cannabis consumers and businesspeople.
We absolutely demand an end to the systemic racism in law enforcement in general, and particularly in cannabis enforcement where even today the odds of a person of color being arrested for cannabis are exponentially higher than those for a white person. That stat doesn’t just exist in the backwoods somewhere in the deep south, it’s everywhere in this country and it’s unacceptable.
We demand safe, affordable access to cannabis for all Americans.
Mistakes have been made, but have lessons been learned?
It sure feels like we are about to find out.