Nothing lasts forever, including the fight to legalize cannabis in the United States. Of course, we would rather the fight ends in complete victory, i.e. marijuana is legal to use, possess, grow, sell and share for all adults, no matter what the reason. But there is another ending we must consider, because if we don’t consider it, we make it even more likely to happen.
I’m talking about legalization coming to a grinding and disappointing halt. Something better than prohibition, so we’ll end up accepting it, but something that falls far short of freedom from prohibition. A kind of hodgepodge of conflicting restrictions and regulations that strangle the legal cannabis industry and keep it from every reaching anything close to its full potential.
If this seems like a cynical read of the situation, it is. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Consider the following:
So far legalization has had all of its success on a state and local level in the U.S. But activists are running out of states where legalization can be brought directly to the voters. As we move into an era where legalization has to go through state legislatures, progress has considerably slowed. Adult-use legalization has died for now in New Jersey, after much fanfare. Progress has ground to a halt in New York after legalization was not included in the budget. And now comes word that legalization has been delayed in New Hampshire while commercial sales in Vermont have been pushed into next year.
Does anyone really think we can trust politicians to do this right? After all, it was politicians who made a harmless plant illegal in the first place based on false information. And while lawmakers haggle over tax rates and THC limits and just how many coveted licenses will be bestowed upon companies based on varying and shifting standards, people are criminalized for no reason.
Of course, legalization on a federal level would go a long way toward bringing state lawmakers around on the issue, but here we run into the same problem. And that issue is that enough members of the House of Representatives have to agree with enough members of the Senate – and they have to agree with the President before anything happens. And who believes the end result of all of that agreeing will be some robust form of legalization? The best that can be hoped for is that the federal government will de-schedule cannabis and allow states to set their own policies without interference, in which case we go back to lawmakers in the states, albeit lawmakers who would have one less excuse not to support legalization.
A dire view to be sure, but one that must be looked at if it is to be avoided.