Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has made his position on how he would handle drug reform clear as an upcoming Democratic 2024 presidential candidate. According to a statement made at a town hall meeting he supports the decriminalization of cannabis and psychedelics, and would opt to let states handle legalization.
Robert denounced Ron Desantis, his rival GOP contender for the 2024 presidential election in a tweet for his stance on decriminalization. He also stated that the “Current situation with contradictory state + federal laws is absurd.” He showed favor for less federal intervention and greater state independence on the issue of regulation and legalization.
DeSantis' opposition to marijuana decriminalization is wrong. I will decriminalize cannabis at the federal level. Current situation with contradictory state + federal laws is absurd. States should be able to decide without federal interference. #Kennedy24https://t.co/GtFZRJwCAa— Robert F. Kennedy Jr (@RobertKennedyJr) June 25, 2023
With that said, his proposals may have a complex impact for the cannabis industry should they become a reality. To better understand this impact of federal decriminalization, one must look towards what the term “decriminalization” really means.
What Would Decriminalization Look Like For Incarceration?
Federal decriminalization can be defined in different ways, and reality is often different than what one might expect. With that in mind, it can be broadly defined as ceasing to treat possession or use of a substance as a criminal offense on the federal level. States would still be able to prosecute and incarcerate individuals for possession or use.
In fact, most cannabis and psychedelic related offenses have been prosecuted on the state level, and those who are incarcerated on the federal level often have more than one charge. This means that federal decriminalization may not have a widespread impact on incarceration, and it would certainly not guarantee the release of any individuals incarcerated for drug related offenses.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has not made any intention clear in regard to decreasing incarceration, or discussed expungement of criminal records. He has however discussed the implementation of a federal tax on cannabis and psychedelics in states that have legalized them.
What Could This Tax Be Used For?
In an interview with ReasonTV Kennedy stated that he is in favor of adding a federal tax to cannabis, “The revenue generated from this tax would be used to build rehabilitation centers across the country and provide drug rehabilitation programs.” Instead of reinvesting back into the cannabis industry, he looks to change the face of rehabilitation centers.
Taxes on the legal cannabis industry are already notorious for being very high, and have made it difficult for the industry to develop in the same way others have. According to the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration, in 2021 the alcohol tax revenue totaled $428 million. In 2022 cannabis tax revenue exceeded $1 billion. The amount of money the federal government would make off of the industry would likely be more than enough to carry out Kennedy’s idea and much more, although he has not made any other intention clear in what he would want the revenue used on.
The extent of taxation without extra federal taxes is already enough to put companies in the space out of business. Not to mention the complex and inconsistent regulatory framework
established by individual states that have made running a business in cannabis disproportionately difficult. If the tax revenue was used for business loans, social equity programs, expungement programs, etc. it could at least ease some of the burdens placed on the industry, but these are not in Kennedy’s agenda.
An Unclear Impact
Kennedy has framed himself as an ally of the cannabis and psychedelic industries, but he has yet to prove his policy would have a positive impact. His stance on descheduling under the Controlled Substances act is also unclear. Right now LSD and Cannabis are both Schedule I substances, meaning they have no recognized medical benefits. Kennedy has not discussed whether he recognizes the medical benefits of cannabis or psychedelics, which would have a great impact on his policy stance and what it would entail. With election day approaching, hopefully he will have a chance to speak more on the subject.
About the Author
Michael has a background in cannabis education and grew up in a family with roots in the industry. When he was Director of Events at Cannaclub UCLA he had the chance to learn from the industry and educate the student body on various aspects of the industry and the plant’s medical benefits.
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