Policy Guides

The Essential Guide to Cannabis: 3 Things to Watch

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1. Illinois

The latest state to legalize recreational cannabis brings a market of 12.74 million people – and the nation’s third-largest city – into the world of legal cannabis. Sales begin on January 1, 2020. Here is why Illinois is important:

  • It was the first state to fully legalize recreational marijuana through the state legislature. Before Illinois, states with fully taxed-and-regulated cannabis industries saw cannabis legalized through a ballot measure, and then the legislature came in after and created a framework and regulations. The fact that the legislature of a large state has now legalized marijuana sets a precedent for states like New York and New Jersey that have long talked about legalizing cannabis but have been, for one reason or another, unable to do so.

  • Equity. An important part of Illinois’ law was its equity program. Equity in cannabis is an issue that many states are dealing with right now, and early programs in places like Massachusetts have come under fire for not doing enough or not actually working for the communities they were designed to help. If Illinois’ program goes well, it could be a model for more states to base their programs on. 

  • Lawmakers. Illinois’ legalization adds 2 senators and 18 representatives to the general cannabis caucus on Capitol Hill. Sen. Duckworth has already said she is in favor of cannabis legislation, but Sen. Durbin has not been incredibly positive on the subject matter in the past. How will they exercise their power in the Senate on this issue, and what aspects of cannabis - banking, criminal justice reform, research, states’ rights, etc. - will they put most of their effort into?

2. Amendments

On Capitol Hill, appropriations bills are a trove of amendments, including cannabis amendments. The Rohrabacher-Farr (now the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment) amendment is one of the only pieces of cannabis legislation passed by Congress. Since 2014, it has prohibited the DOJ from using federal funds to prosecute or hinder legal medical marijuana businesses in states where it is legal. In the 116th congress, the Blumenauer-McClintock Amendment has been introduced to do the same thing for recreational cannabis. The policy that keeps Washington, DC from having a taxed-and-regulated cannabis market also comes from an amendment, which is reintroduced each year to a federal appropriations bill. Keep a pulse on amendments,  as updates to cannabis policy can sometimes sneak through that route more easily than a standalone bill.

3. Tobacco and Alcohol

If you aren’t paying attention to tobacco and alcohol in the cannabis space, you should be; the big players in both industries are a constant presence in cannabis strategy meetings on Capitol Hill. Should something like the STATES Act or federal descheduling pass, their influence will become more than just behind the scenes.

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