The landscape on marijuana policy continues to change. From a “just say no” stance to ending the federal ban on medicinal cannabis, the United States—it’s public, 78% of whom support states’ right to allow access to medical cannabis and it’s politicians—is finally closing the gap.
Earlier this week, Congress passed a spending bill that includes a provision that ends the federal government’s prohibition on medical marijuana. According to Aaron Houston, the Director of Government Relations for the Marijuana Policy Project in D.C., “This marks the first time in history that Congress has changed a marijuana law for the better.” President Obama’s signature on the bill officially brings a close to decades of tension between states and the federal government over medical use of marijuana.
What’s ahead? The new law truly marks the emergence of a new alliance in marijuana politics and will send a ripple effect through the cannabis industry. Here are a few changes we can hope to see.
- The new law signals a drastic change in Department of Justice enforcement. No more federal medical marijuana raids, arrest, or criminal prosecutions in states where medical marijuana is legal. This is big. Until this week, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had placed marijuana, including medical marijuana, in the most dangerous category of narcotics.
- A logical next step would be to reconsider marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I drug, which bars medical use. The power to reschedule such a substance lies in the authority of the U.S. Attorney General, who in practice has delegated it to the DEA. According to Paul Armentano, the Deputy Director of NORML, “I would argue that rescheduling cannabis is inappropriate because the plant should be de-scheduled. Other botanicals are generally not scheduled in the CSA and, most obviously, neither are alcohol or tobacco—two substances that possess no accepted therapeutic utility and do possess far greater risks to health than cannabis.”
- Reclassification would expand needed marijuana research both from a funding as well as a research perspective. Before the new law, the DEA restricted how much marijuana could go to research and the major government health funding agencies had been reluctant to go against the DEA’s position.
- Reclassification will provide a green light for many industries such as banking, insurance, advertising, prison unions, pharmaceutical companies, and others to work with patients and medical marijuana business owners and operators.
- Reclassification will also allow for the creation of clearer marijuana policies, something with which states have wrestled.
For those who are pro-medical marijuana, we can enjoy this historic moment. In the coming months, we will watch how lifting the federal ban on medicinal cannabis will unfold.
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