Two recent developments on Capitol Hill demonstrate the government’s growing support of the marijuana industry. A U.S. Senate committee passed a bill that will permit banks to do business with dispensaries in states where cannabis has been legalized. Additionally, the bill will finally allow Washington, D.C., to set up and regulate dispensaries.
The votes come on the heels of three other marijuana-related amendments the committee approved this year. Two of those keep the Drug Enforcement Agency from sabotaging state laws regarding hemp research and medical marijuana, and the other amendment permits doctors with the Veterans Administration to suggest cannabis as a treatment for their patients.
The bill regarding D.C. dispensaries is significant as the city has legalized growing, using and possessing marijuana. However, selling marijuana is still considered illegal, which critics say leads to a lack of logical restrictions such as setting an age limit for users. The passage of this amendment would give the city more control and enable it to tax the plant.
Across the country, states are increasingly approving of marijuana use in some form. In Colorado, Alaska, Washington and Oregon, cannabis is legalized like alcohol. Twenty-three states have established laws that legalize medical marijuana, and another 16 states have permitted the use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid often used to manage seizures in children with epilepsy.
The trend of marijuana acceptance extends to the DEA. In April, the agency’s former leader resigned after it became evident that her ideas regarding drug policy reform were dated. According to the White House, the new chief will place less emphasis on cannabis enforcement.
The shift in laws and attitudes reflects a movement toward decriminalizing marijuana use. This year, the U.S. House of Representatives four times upheld a state’s rights to set its own laws regarding cannabis. In a move that shocked many, a measure to prevent federal interference in states legalizing cannabis similarly to alcohol failed, but by a small margin of just nine votes.
Legalization is only part of the battle advocates face, as laws regarding drug sentences in many states need revision. Dozens of states have already begun reforming their policies. Across party lines, many feel that federal sentencing guidelines and asset forfeiture rules should be revisited as well.
Recently, the White House showcased a policy known as LEAD, or Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, which promotes placing drug offenders in support services, such as treatment programs, as opposed to prison. Several cities have already adopted the practice. There are also measures in place in 28 states to protect people who witness overdoses. So-called 911 Good Samaritan laws prevent people who call for medical help from getting arrested and prosecuted.
Over the course of the next 16 months, voters across the country will decide whether or not marijuana will be legalized in their home states. Additionally, cities such as Chicago, Houston, San Francisco and Atlanta could take up programs similar to LEAD.
Advocates warn that there is a strong opposition to marijuana reform coming from parties that profit from the drug war, such as prosecutors and police unions. It will take funding, bipartisan support and successful ballot measures to keep progress headed in the right direction.