Cannabis legalization recently received a gigantic boost in momentum following announcements by two high-profile Republicans.
The most recent news came from U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado who is also head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He announced on April 13 that President Trump vowed to back legislation that would protect the marijuana industry.
Former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner also made news recently when he announced on April 11 that “my thinking on cannabis has evolved.” Boehner, once a critic of legalization, joined the board of advisers of Acreage Holdings, a cannabis corporation that operates in 11 states.
The two headlines are both significant in terms of advancing legalization policy and optics. Spending on legal cannabis worldwide is expected to hit $57 billion by 2027; the largest group will be in North America, going from $9.2 billion in 2017 to $47.3 billion a decade later. That data is thanks to Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics. The legal market is expected to reach $75 billion by 2030, according to the investment bank Cowen & Co.
Given the likely explosion in legal cannabis sales and continued progress on national legalization, it makes sense that once-opponents of legal marijuana are now coming to the industry’s defense.
Gardner’s cannabis story began in November 2017 when he joined an effort to create an exception to the Internal Revenue Code that prohibits state-based legal cannabis businesses from benefiting from critical income tax credits and deductions.
Then in January, the NRSC chairman rebuked U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for rescinding an Obama-era memo that offered flexibility to federal prosecutors in marijuana cases. Gardner went as far as to threaten to block Justice Department nominees “until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made” on marijuana. During the confirmation process, Sessions promised Gardner that he would not interfere with state-based legal marijuana programs. Once in office, the embattled attorney general quickly violated that commitment.
Gardner largely maintained his vow to block Justice Department nominees, though he did ease up on certain critical confirmations, such as those involving counter-terrorism officials. On April 13, President Trump himself picked up the phone to let the senator know that the confirmation protest could end.
“President Trump has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ rights issue once and for all,” Gardner said in a statement.
He is working on bipartisan federal legislation that would declare marijuana legal in states that have implemented regulated programs. The cannabis industry also would like to see an effort in the bill to allow for the banking of cannabis dollars. Only a handful of banks currently take cannabis money.
Many in the cannabis industry hailed the commitment from President Trump as a monumental moment in the legalization effort.
“We applaud Sen. Gardner’s leadership and his tireless efforts to provide certainty for the state’s cannabis industry, which employs thousands of people and contributes millions of dollars to the state and local economies,” said Chuck Smith, Board President of Colorado Leads, a cannabis business alliance of over 50 Colorado companies.
“We are also fortunate to have state elected officials, like Gov. John Hickenlooper, who have supported cannabis companies and worked with us to create a responsible and strictly regulated industry, which is considered the model for other states,” Smith continued.
Colorado Leads pointed out that the Colorado cannabis industry is the fastest-growing business sector in the state creating more than 39,000 direct jobs with an economic impact of $2.4 billion. In 2017 alone, the marijuana industry generated $226 million in taxes and fees, and over the past four years, $639 million in taxes and fees has been collected. The tax money has gone towards school construction projects and mental and behavioral health services, as well as to local governments that have used the tax money for new streets, homelessness programs college scholarships.
John Boehner has ‘evolved’
The second piece to the Republican cannabis puzzle came from Boehner, who served as speaker of the House from 2011 to 2015. A somewhat ardent critic of marijuana legalization, Boehner said he was moved by the impact cannabis has had on veterans and the opioid epidemic.
The cannabis industry has rallied around veterans, with several ancillary businesses operated by veterans popping up to serve the marijuana industry in fields such as security. In Pennsylvania, for example, national cannabis company Terrapin Care Station is using VetForce to secure its medical marijuana operations. VetForce is largely operated by veterans. Terrapin Care Station has also pledged to hire a workforce of 30 percent veterans.
Marijuana has proven useful in treating PTSD, a condition that disproportionately impacts veterans. Cannabis has also had positive impacts on the opioid epidemic, which also greatly impacts veterans.
Two recent studies indicate that in legal marijuana states, opioid abuse declined. In one study that looked at Medicare, researchers found that states with medical cannabis laws had 2.21 million fewer daily doses of opioids prescribed per year, compared with those states without medical marijuana laws. In a second Medicaid study, opioid prescriptions dropped by nearly 6 percent in states with medical cannabis laws compared with states without such laws.
Given the positive impacts of marijuana legalization, Boehner felt comfortable jumping aboard.
“I’m convinced de-scheduling the drug is needed so we can do research, help our veterans, and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities,” Mr. Boehner wrote on Twitter, referring to how the federal government classifies marijuana.
I’m joining the board of #AcreageHoldings because my thinking on cannabis has evolved. I’m convinced de-scheduling the drug is needed so we can do research, help our veterans, and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities. @AcreageCannabis https://t.co/f5i9KcQD0W
— John Boehner (@SpeakerBoehner) April 11, 2018
Boehner’s position aligns with 61 percent of Americans who said marijuana should be legalized in a Pew Research Center survey from October, compared with 31 percent in 2000. A Gallup poll from October revealed similar results, with 64 percent saying they supported legalization.
“Over the last 10 or 15 years, the American people’s attitudes have changed dramatically,” Boehner said in an interview with Bloomberg. “I find myself in that same position.”