“I believe we can get this done.”
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Those were the words from Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., Wednesday in support of removing marijuana from the Schedule I classification as labeled by the Controlled Substances Act.
A group of experts testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday in favor of changing federal laws to allow for the legal sale and use of marijuana, which was largely embraced by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle throughout the hearing.
Topics ranged from racial disparities among incarceration rates for possession, to the economic impact of legalizing the plant's use.
Cannabis Trade Federation CEO Neal Levine, who represents companies within the industry, noted “the state-based cannabis industry today is not only serving consumers, but has also become a driver of economic growth and tax revenue in states across the country.”
But having a federal law in the books making the product illegal has proven difficult for people who make their living in the legal sale and consumption of marijuana.
“This gap between state and federal law also creates a tension for cannabis workers and employees who must show up to work every day knowing their activity could put them in danger of federal prosecution,” Levine said.
According to his research, Levine noted estimates of more than 200,000 people who currently work in the industry.
In Colorado, he noted, since 2014, legal sales of the product have raked in $6.5 billion since 2014 and $1 billion in tax revenue from fees.
State legal cannabis sales are expected to exceed $20 Billion in 2019, according to Levine.
He believes the federal law stops workers from getting mortgages, car loans and even has business owners paying an effective federal tax rate higher than 70 percent.
“Cannabis businesses struggle to obtain and maintain accounts with financial institutions due to the underlying activity being illegal under federal law,” Levine testified.
“These are dedicated and passionate workers acting in strict compliance with state law, with the support of their state and local government, who have families and should not be under constant threat of arrest and punishment by federal authorities for going to work.”
The experts on the panel and even lawmakers pushed for Congress to come to a consensus on legalizing the drug, claiming it is difficult to legislate the end of marijuana prohibition if lawmakers aren’t on board.
“If we further divide out the movement, then I fear that we’ll continue to fall victim to that which has plagued other Congresses where we won’t get anything done, ” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.
Gaetz and others are pushing for the passage of the States Act, which would protect businesses from federal prosecution as long as they adhere to the regulations of their respective states pertaining to cannabis sales and consumption.
“As an industry, we are not only concerned with how the policy is shaped, but how it impacts our businesses, our employees and our state and local economies,” Levine advised.
“The situation has become untenable.”
“My concern is looking at the industry as a cash cow and applying all sorts of exorbitant taxes upon it is the same effect as prohibition. It will drive what should be legal commerce back into a violent underground economy,” said Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif.
“Our main competition is the criminal markets,” Levine admitted – while still noting that, in his opinion, “regulation works better than prohibition.”
Lieu put his position on the table: “My view is that it is a huge waste of federal resources to criminalize marijuana.”
“Everything in politics seems impossible until it happens,” he said.
That sense of optimism was shared by Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., who called the hearing “historic.”
“I’ve been working on this issue for 40 years, and it’s just crazy that we don’t just get it all done.”