Is ending the prohibition on cannabis key to US economic recovery, just as ending the prohibition on alcohol was key to their recovery from the Great Depression?

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Facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, outlets such as Forbes, CNBC, and the conservative leaning National Review, have all published recent pieces saying that ending cannabis prohibition will help rescue the Covid-depressed economy, just as ending alcohol prohibition helped rescue the country from the Great Depression.

The cannabis industry employs nearly 250,000 people full time, more than four times the number of coal industry workers in the country – even though cannabis is illegal federally and in 39 states. Full legalization, Forbes says, could result in over 1.6 million new jobs by 2025.     

The numbers from states with legal cannabis backs up this claim. Figures released just this week show that Colorado, Illinois and Oregon have all maintained record-breaking sales in recent months despite the pandemic. In Colorado, for example, cannabis shops sold more than $192 million in May, up from $148 million the month prior.

And as CNBC points out, we sometimes overlook the huge ripple effect of a legal cannabis industry:

To stand up a brand new consumer product business that big, people don’t understand that yet . . . Literally $300 to $500 million dollars in capital expenditure in Illinois alone to build the facilities — lots of labor, lots of steel and concrete, HVACs, jobs, massive real estate demand. It’s a big, big industry.

That’s in addition to the managers, growers, harvesters, gardening and greenhouse suppliers, extraction technicians, transportation companies and drivers that would be employed on the production side of the business. And on the consumer side, you have retail owners, managers and employees; edible makers who create gummies, chocolates, baked goods, beverages, and so on, infused with CBD and THC; and advertising and marketing firms.

In other words, you’d be building a much-needed small business economy – an economy that’s responsible for some 44% of all US economic activity. However, as the Times reported this week, it’s been devastated by over 100,000 permanent business closures just between early March and May.

Nick’s Sports Grill and Lounge in Lubbock, Texas, closed for good in June leaving 30 employees jobless and the owner with $80,000 of business debt.

There’s only one thing missing from building a much-needed countrywide cannabis-based economic infrastructure: Political Will.

Gallup reports that over 66% of the public favor adult-use legalization. And all eleven states that have legalized recreational cannabis have deemed those businesses to be “essential” during the pandemic, thus allowing them to remain open despite mandated business closures.

The missing political will needs to coalesce around pending federal legislation that proposes to decriminalize cannabis: the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 (the MORE Act). It was passed by the House Judiciary Committee last November and awaits approval by the full House, Senate, and then the President, who we hope will be this poll-leading guy, come November.

But there’s a problem: Though Joe Biden calls for national decriminalization and expungement of criminal records, his use of the term “decriminalization” can be misleading because it still leaves people subject to fines and, significantly, it leaves businesses subject to fines, license revocations and, ultimately, forced closures.

Yet as Forbes points out, it’s in Biden’s political self-interest to back legalization: “This opens up the possibility of Joe Biden earning votes from the growing number of Americans who support legalization, especially the young progressive voters that he has struggled most with at the polls,” i.e., the huge swath of (needed) voters from the Sanders-Warren wing of the party.

Biden’s reason for not throwing in with the legalization crowd is that he wants more evidence that cannabis is good for your health – or at least that it’s not bad for you — according to The Atlantic. We could point him to a Mayo Clinic report that says medicinal cannabis is implicated in treating a host of conditions: schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, migraine’s, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and ulcerative colitis. And that, significantly, many of these conditions have proven resistant to any other form of treatment.

But there’s a troublesome irony shaping up here. Compelling evidence out of Canada, the US, and elsewhere, says that the cannabis plant contains compounds, notably CBD, that “profoundly” calm the ‘cytokine storm’ – the hyperinflammatory condition that drives severe cases of Covid-19 – the very disease that’s brought our economy to its knees.

More research looking into the link between cannabis and Covid-19 needs to be done and the sooner the better – but we’ve hit a legally imposed wall, according to a report in the journal Science. Which says that because of the federal prohibition on cannabis there’s only one available source of it throughout the entire country: “the only marijuana that can be legally used for research in the United States is grown at the University of Mississippi, Oxford,” leading to a huge backlog of applicants.

What’s more, that source of cannabis “doesn’t come close to representing the potency, quality, and diversity of what’s readily available in states with legal markets . . .  [Thus] “[w]hen you’re talking about trying to develop cannabis into a medicine, [this] product is fundamentally inadequate.”

How do we break down this wall so that more US scientists can do better quality research? There’s only one way: by passing the MORE Act – which would also open the door to more than 1 million jobs in the small business economy.

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