How Would Legalization Change the U.S.?

Stephen Andrews
27 May 2022

A lot has been written about the federal legalization of cannabis. Removing marijuana from the list of Schedule I substances has been at the heart of the debate among lawmakers, advocates, supporters and opposers, online on forums and offline in the House, Senate and other instances of power. Years have gone by, and unfortunately, no consensus has been reached yet at the federal level. A question remains: how would the United States benefit from a comprehensive legislation bill that would seek to reclassify cannabis and regulate its use entirely?

One of the latest initiatives that seek to upgrade the legal status of cannabis in the U.S. is the MORE Act. This bill aims to remove marijuana from the Schedule I substances where, eerily enough, cannabis is categorized right next to heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. 

Without a bill that federally regulates cannabis, a number of obstacles remain in place, which could lead to legal repercussions even for users or businesses who come from legal states. So, what does federal legalization of cannabis mean?

Free Transfer of Cannabis Across State Borders

Right now, federal law prohibits transferring cannabis from one state to another. For example, if you purchase pot in California and want to travel with it to any other state, whether it's Idaho or Colorado, you may get in trouble with officers. 

This restriction does not solely affect users, however. It also means that cultivators cannot transfer cannabis products from one territory to another in the U.S. For example, if you are a cultivator who farms crops in California, the only place where you can sell your harvest is in California. You cannot export to another state even if your business is also licensed and operates there as well. That's a pity, because this working model has proven times and times unsustainable in the past. 

There have been instances, especially when a new legal market launches, the first few months are followed by a shortage of cannabis products. This has been the case in Illinois and Colorado, where some dispensaries have been forced to temporarily halt operations or introduce purchase limits. 

In the event of shortage, those who suffer usually are medical patients. When New Mexico and Montana recently launched their recreational retail, medical users stockpiled products in advance as a precaution. Nobody wants to end up in a scenario where they are left without their medicines. Fortunately, things remained under control when these two markets launched. Some lessons on management have been learned. 

Still, the big irony is that states such as California produce much more cannabis than they are able to sell on the domestic state market. An economy such as California can largely benefit from exports to other states and territories, but that's currently not permitted. California can supply states where insufficiencies may be detected or where it's more expensive to cultivate cannabis crops because of the climate. 

Free transfer and mobility of cannabis will certainly boost trade, and it will fix many other sustainability issues that we've repeatedly seen happening over the last decade.

cannabis justice now, federal legalization.

Better Justice System

Marijuana laws are seen as "a key driver of mass criminalization in the United States," it says in the background and need for legislation section of the MORE bill. And this is entirely true. Enforcement has disproportionally affected various minority groups, most notably Black and Latina communities. 

Any bill brought forward to be passed in the House and Senate and signed into law by the president of the United States, whoever that national hero turns out to be, will undoubtedly contain language that creates a pathway for resentencing those incarcerated for cannabis-related offenses. 

Besides expungement of all those who have been unfairly convicted, a better justice system also means protecting immigrants from being denied citizenship because of cannabis-related charges and protection for all individuals who federal agencies might strip of public benefits or security clearance due to alleged use of marijuana. 

Federal Tax Would Pour Money Into Public Programs

Legal states were quick to see various economic benefits of cannabis. One is funding public programs such as drug treatment and mental health centers, public schools, running youth mentoring programs or anti-bullying campaigns, etc. 

Recreational marijuana products typically have excise tax, which brings millions of dollars into state coffers. For example, Colorado has used a whopping $105 million of marijuana tax revenue to strengthen housing programs, mental health programs in jails, and health programs in middle schools. It has also spent $40 million to build public schools. And that's solely for the season 2016-2017 after it introduced recreational legalization. 

New Opportunities Will Change the Job Market

The budding sector has proven to be resilient to crisis. In fact, while most sectors have plummeted with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, cannabis kept on generating new jobs. Estimates suggest that over 100,000 new cannabis jobs were generated throughout 2021, an increase of 33% in just one year. According to Forbes, that was the fifth consecutive year that the sector showed an annual job growth rate of at least 27%.

With federal legalization, there would be even more explosive job growth in the cannabis sector. It will massively boost the job market, benefiting farming communities, minorities, and thousands of other families eligible to obtain a business license and earn a generational wealth. 

Businesses Get Access to Regular Banking Services 

The lack of federal legislation discourages most banks from doing business with cannabis entities. Most cannabis dispensaries still operate with cash. Most owners of companies are still not privileged an access to essential banking services such as taking a loan. Services that can guarantee the function of everyday business. 

And that happens out of fear of federal agents who may press charges if they detect working with a cannabis-related entity. Cannabis businesses are not seen as equal to companies from other sectors. But that is certain to change once federal legalization is established. 

federal legalization of cannabis, economic reform.

Legalizing Marijuana Would Save Money

Federal regulation would end the costly enforcement of marijuana laws and free up police resources. Estimates suggest that arresting people for possession of cannabis costs the United States at least $1.19 billion every year, and this sum is probably much more than that. Costs include expenses on police, judicial, legal, and corrections processes. 

Furthermore, the U.S. prison system spends an estimated $600 million each year to intern marijuana offenders. Legalization would save a lot of money anyways, funds that police officers can redirect for tackling other serious crimes such as sexual violence, assault, or homicide. It will directly result in a drop in marijuana possession arrests, as has already been demonstrated in states that have gone legal. 

In the words of Howard Wooldridge, a former police detective from Michigan and co-founder of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), "Marijuana prohibition is a horrible waste of good police time. Every hour spent looking for pot reduces public safety."

Safer Products for Everyone

People will always find ways to get marijuana. If it's illegal or if there's no legal dispensary in their county, they will buy it on the street. Marijuana that originates from the illicit market is usually not tested for harmful substances. Flowers may have been exposed to various contaminants, fungus, or mold. 

In addition, we have recently seen the rise of synthetic THC products, which have resulted in more than a hundred hospitalization cases. Cultivators use legal loopholes with the 2018 Farm Bill to create THC analogs from hemp plants and sell those products in places where recreational retail is still not regulated. Would that have happened in the first place if growing and processing marijuana the usual way was legal everywhere?

Every state that legalizes cannabis takes care to label legal cannabis products with critical information, such as how much THC, CBD, or another cannabinoid the product contains, how it was manufactured, and so on. 

Other regulations also play a huge role in maintaining the safety of consumers. Growers must be licensed and follow protocols on how they cultivate their produce. Flowers, edibles, and any other products are lab-tested for the presence of harmful substances before they reach dispensary shelves. States also impose limits on how much cannabis a person can be served during a day, week, or month. 

In other words, federal legalization means safety and health benefits for all society. 

Do you support the federal legalization of cannabis?

Stephen Andrews