With Louisiana’s recent entry into the realm of legalizing medical marijuana, 25 out of 50 states have now legalized cannabis for medical use. If Florida is able to get its initiative over the hump this November, then the majority of the states will officially have legalized something federally illegal.
Twenty-five feels like it should be a magic number. It doesn’t really make sense that the federal government would treat something as criminal that a majority of the states have legalized and authorized. Unfortunately, the law doesn’t work like that, and we still have to rely on Congress and the President if we want to see true legalization. All 50 states could legalize, and that wouldn’t automatically change anything at the federal level.
We have discussed the issues federal legalization would solve ad nauseam. Federal law implements punitive tax rates and makes it difficult for cannabis businesses to access financial services. Many federal agencies, including the FTC, FDA, CPSC, and EPA, that should be assisting with regulating cannabis businesses, pretend those businesses don’t exist. And private actors, including big banks, big investment firms, credit card companies, and other large enterprises won’t officially interact with cannabis businesses because of federal illegality. This has a way of isolating cannabis businesses in the market place, creating entirely unnecessary inefficiencies.
But even though there’s no legal magic to legalizing medical cannabis in a majority of states, it is the strongest possible argument that cannabis legalization is not the niche issue it has seemed to be for much of its life. The loudest and most fraudulent anti-legalization arguments will seem sillier and sillier as voters in states where marijuana is still illegal look at their neighbors and see that legalization has been fine. There are no marijuana bogeymen. Additionally, those states that have yet to legalize now have the opportunity to craft even better policy language. Oregon’s legalization initiative and its subsequent amendments are superior in many ways to what Washington and Colorado have done. The “laboratories of democracy” description Justice Brandeis made about states trying novel experiments is proving itself true for the cannabis industry.
So what’s next? There are two parallel tracks of marijuana legalization. Medical legalization has captured more states and is overwhelmingly popular, but recreational legalization has a broader impact. While medical legalization proceeds in states that aren’t quite ready for full legalization, the roster of recreational-legal states is likely to increase significantly this November. California, Nevada, Maine, Arizona, and several other states are considering some form of legalization for all adults, which would add to the current small list of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska, and Washington, DC.
The federal government, standing alone, is simply not up to the task of single-handedly enforcing federal drug laws, and without assistance from state-level law enforcement, federal government enforcement moves wouldn’t put a dent in the industry. There are too many people and too much money involved to revert to the past. Legalized cannabis has arrived and there’s no turning back.