Policy Guides

The Essential Guide to Cannabis: Policy State of the Union

 
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KEEP THE STATES IN MIND

THERE IS NO WAY TO LOOK AT FEDERAL CANNABIS POLICY RIGHT NOW WITHOUT KEEPING THE STATES IN MIND.

Because cannabis is not yet legal on a federal level, the majority of federal legislation is focused on either easing limits on or protecting state-level industries, with the notable exception of medical marijuana research. No bills, as of yet, are delving deeply into the nuts and bolts of cannabis policy or regulations on Capitol Hill; that work is still being done in the states.

On the issue of cannabis, states are the arbiters of federal policy. A state’s legal status often dictates if its lawmakers are cannabis advocates, and the biggest problems in its marijuana industry inspire the bills those lawmakers will introduce and champion on Capitol Hill. While the majority of cannabis policy nationwide is still being done on a state level, there are major hurdles all states face that can only be fixed by the federal government, like banking. Those issues turn into legislation like the SAFE Banking Act, which would make accessing banking easier within the cannabis industry.

PARTY LINES

CANNABIS SUPPORT IS NOT SPLIT DOWN PARTY LINES.

This is partially because there are so many states with either recreational or medical cannabis industries, and those industries have constituents with complaints and needs. It’s true that more Democrats support cannabis legislation in both the House and Senate than Republicans, but as long as the Senate is controlled by the GOP, those Republicans are key. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, for example, is a Republican and one of the primary advocates for cannabis in the Senate. Libertarian-leaning Senator Rand Paul, meanwhile, believes that cannabis should be left up to each state and is a common co-sponsor for cannabis legislation. Republican lawmakers who have a history of being pro-states rights or come from states with medical or recreational cannabis are the best bet for cannabis allies. 

State legal status, however, is not the only determination for which lawmakers will be sympathetic or not to cannabis legislation. There often is an age divide between pro- and anti-cannabis lawmakers on Capitol Hill. California Sen. Diane Feinstein, for example, was slow to board the cannabis bus and still is not very active in the caucus. Meanwhile, her junior counterpart Sen. Kamala Harris has sponsored multiple pieces of weed legislation.
 

CANNABIS ON CAPITOL HILL

STATE-MOTIVATED DYNAMICS MEANS THAT CAPITOL HILL IS CONSTANTLY CHANGING.

New lawmakers are constantly joining the ranks of the cannabis caucus (the official one chaired by Reps Earl Blumenauer, Barbara Lee, Don Young, and David Joyce or the unofficial group of all lawmakers who in some way in favor of cannabis policies), new state laws are constantly influencing federal action, and the expansion of the industry is constantly bringing in new interest groups from pharma and banking to alcohol and tobacco.

The best thing to know about cannabis on Capitol Hill is that anything, really, can happen. 

A LOT MORE MONEY IS INVOLVED

As more states legalize, especially large ones with deep pockets like California and Illinois, there is a lot more money involved. This is making a big difference on Capitol Hill, as everyone from soda companies to the American Bankers’ Association forms an interest in the hemp and cannabis industries. It has resulted in additional dollars being spent on lobbying, and more political pressure being placed on lawmakers from a myriad of new sources. This additional money has the power to push lawmakers to consider bills; many have said the ABA was instrumental, for example, in the progress of the SAFE Banking Act. But it’s also important to note also that as more states legalize and as more industries jump into the fray, the more differences of opinion there are on Capitol Hill. 

Take the STATES Act, for example. It was generally supported by many lawmakers when it was first announced. But since then, Oregon has passed a law legalizing interstate trade as soon as the federal government allows. Other states, like Colorado, may want to create more barriers to interstate commerce in order to allow their in-state market more time to flourish before being inundated by Oregon or California weed. As it stands, the STATES Act would solidify the barriers of legal states, limiting Oregon’s ability to ex-port marijuana out of state. This sets the lawmakers from Oregon and California now at odds with each other over a bill they both previously supported. 

That Oregon bill to export cannabis, however, is an example of state-level legislation that anyone interested in federal cannabis legislation needs to pay attention to. Because cannabis is still fed-erally illegal, many of the major policy decisions are being made at the state level. From the way law enforcement approaches the remaining illicit market to criminal justice reform, workers’ rights and even product packaging requirements, the formula for how many issues are dealt with will actually be dictated on the state level as long as federal prohibition remains in place. 

CANNABIS REVENUES BROKEN DOWN BY STATE:

Estimated sales in 2017 in the US from cannabis. Totals include medical and recreational sales. Note: Colorado, Oregon and Washington totals are recreational only.

Download the full chapter here.
 


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