In our last post, we mentioned the Congressional Cannabis Caucus (CCC). To better understand the significance of this group to the marijuana industry, we’ll explain its mission and the various cannabis arguments being presented. The objective is to change federal laws to decriminalize and enable cannabusinesses to financially transact business and operate legally on all levels of government. The CCC is working with other congressional peers to move the federal government towards some level of repeal. Dispensary owners have a big stake in the outcome.

The following information can help cannabis dispensary owners participate by understanding the key elements and arguments involved in getting the laws changed.

Cannabis Caucus Roll Call

Representative Dana Rohrabacher (CA-48)

Representative Earl Blumenauer (OR-03)

Representative Don Young (AK-At Large)

Representative Jared Polis (CO-02)

Cannabis Caucus’ Mission

The bi-partisan CCC announced its formation Thursday, February 16, 2017. This group provides a platform upon which lawmakers work to swing votes and end prohibition. Some key goals include ending the cash crisis by allowing normal bank accounts for cannabis businesses, reforming IRC 280E which promotes unusually high IRS taxes and a financial strain on cannabusinesses, bolstering states’ rights to allow cannabis, and reclassification of cannabis current Schedule I status as a drug.

Its mission is to develop policy reforms that can bridge the gap between federal laws banning marijuana and the laws in the current states that have legalized it for medical or recreational purposes.

Marijuana Lobby Groups

Cannabis industry leading lobby groups and advocacy associations are eager to align with the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. Here is a short list of the most influential cannabis organizations:

Drug Policy Alliance 

NORML 

Marijuana Policy Project 

The National Cannabis Industry Association 

LEAP 

DrugSense 

Stop the Drug War 

Common Sense for Drug Policy

Types of Arguments for Cannabis Legalization

These and many other US-based advocacy groups are working on behalf of the marijuana industry, and many of these groups need direct feedback and involvement from dispensary owners. This feedback now has multiple paths to the congressional group that can receive and help act on it. There are currently efforts underway to attack the legalization issue on multiple fronts:

States’ Rights

This strategy has a long history in the US, but the arguments for states’ rights has been traditionally used as a tool of oppression against civil rights. It is unknown how this will play out in today’s climate. The baggage this tactic carries with it may inadvertently undermine the overall objective: to enable the voters’ will to prevail in legalized states.

Reclassification of Cannabis

Drug classification is tricky because they can be classified in different ways: either by its chemical activity or by the condition it treats. It’s important to understand the five drug classifications regulated by the Controlled Substances Act:

Narcotics

Depressants

Stimulants

Hallucinogens

Anabolic Steroids

Cannabis is currently a Schedule I drug. The DEA as of June, 2016 requested that the FDA conduct an analysis on whether marijuana should be downgraded. Jon Gettman, former director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) argues that cannabis does not fit each of the three statutory criteria that would deem a drug Schedule I. He argues since laboratory animals do not self-administer cannabis, and because cannabis’ toxicity is virtually non-existent compared to that of heroin or cocaine, cannabis lacks the high abuse potential required for inclusion in Schedule I or II.

Drug Schedule List

Schedule I Controlled Substances

  • Definition: No accepted medical use in the US. No accepted safety for use under medical supervision. High abuse potential.
  • Examples: Heroin, LSD, Cannabis, Peyote, and Ecstasy

Schedule II/IIN Controlled Substances (2/2N)

  • Definition: High abuse potential which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.
  • Examples: Dilaudid, Methadone (Dolophine), Demerol, OxyContin, Percocet, and fentanyl (Sublimaze, Duragesic), Morphine, Opium, and Codeine
  • Examples of Schedule IIN stimulants: Amphetamine (Dexedrine, Adderall), Methamphetamine (Desoxyn), and Methylphenidate (Ritalin)

Schedule III/IIIN Controlled Substances (3/3N)

  • Definition: Potential for abuse less than substances in Schedules I or II. Abuse may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence.
  • Examples: Vicodin, Tylenol with Codeine, and Suboxone
  • Examples of Schedule IIIN non-narcotics: Benzphetamine (Didrex), Phendimetrazine, Ketamine, and Anabolic steroids such as Depo-Testosterone.

Schedule IV Controlled Substances

  • Definition: Low abuse potential relative to substances in Schedule III.
  • Examples: Xanax, Soma, Klonopin, Tranxene, and Valium

Schedule V Controlled Substances

  • Definition: Low abuse potential consisting of limited quantities of certain narcotics.
  • Examples: Cough preparations containing not more than 200 milligrams of codeine per 100 milliliters or per 100 grams (Robitussin AC, Phenergan with Codeine), and ezogabine

Repealing Marijuana Prohibition

Another argument is focused on directly repealing cannabis prohibition through “severability.” Under Title 21 of the United States Code, Subdivision I, Part A, Section 801 of the Controlled Substances Act has a Severability paragraph. In short, this clause states that any provision of Title 21 found to be “…utterly invalid or unenforceable… such provision shall be severed from this title…” 

Changing the prohibition of marijuana in this way does not rest with the DEA or the Department of Health and Human Services. This change can legally happen through a petition from any citizen, medical society or association, public interest group, state or local government agency, and so on. Many of the lobby groups listed here are keenly focused on this issue, so dispensary owners wanting the federal law changed without calling their representatives could join this effort.

Medical vs Recreational Marijuana

Another approach underway focuses on medicinal rather than recreational laws. This would appear to be less polarizing to politicians, but movement on this front is slow, and the strings attached to medical use can grind progress to a halt. States who originally began with medicinal legalization acknowledge lost revenue opportunities, compared to states that have legalized cannabis at the recreational level. As of mid-February, 2017, Colorado, a state that legalized recreational use of marijuana topped $1 Billion in sales.

Visibility and Majority Pressure

Eight additional states are considering legalization in 2017, including Texas, New Mexico, Delaware, Missouri, Virginia, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Vermont. The success of early adopter states like Washington, Oregon, and Colorado drive home the point to other lawmakers that a new source of state revenues via pot sales could be realized with the sweep of a pen.

State funding is a pivotal issue for more states to legalize marijuana. Polls indicating citizen support of full legalization reached 60% last year. Many state representatives sense this is a strong climate in which to join the 28 states that already legalize cannabis. The more states that legalize, the more lobby pressure is applied to congress, and the more the Cannabis Caucus can apply pressure to the House of Representatives, the more likely we are to see federal laws change. Dispensary owners’ role in pressuring state, local, and federal representatives is critical to moving these issues forward.