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‘Not a snowball’s chance in the Senate’: AMIA on federal cannabis legalization House bill

Published: Dec. 12, 2020 at 6:19 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - On Dec. 4, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to legalize, decriminalize and tax cannabis at the federal level.

Here in Alaska, the president of the Marijuana Industry Association Lacy Wilcox said it’s exciting news for industry members and fans of pot. However, she believes it’s still going to be a while before marijuana is legal across the country.

The legislation comes after the 2020 election, where several states voted to make adult cannabis use legal. Now, only three states have not made medical use legal, and 15 states have recreational use legal. So, almost all the states have passed some legislation in favor of cannabis use and regulation.

The bill is being called the “Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019,” or the “MORE Act of 2019.” In it, there is a lot to unpack.

At the front end of the bill, it points out 600,000 people are arrested for cannabis every year, and the fact that it costs taxpayers about $3.6 billion a year to enforce prohibition laws.

Additionally, it highlights that people of color have been targeted by the war on drugs, and aims to make reparations in the form of grant and loan programs as well as the expungement of records for non-violent offenders.

As it’s written, the bill seeks to remove marijuana and THC from the schedule of controlled substances and put a 5% federal tax on the sale of products. It would also allow for loans to be given to start up cannabis businesses.

For Wilcox, “change is change,” and she’s happy to see the further acceptance of marijuana by lawmakers. However, she’s skeptical federal legalization will be seen any time soon.

She is by no means the only person expecting the bill to die once it gets to the Republican-controlled Senate. While it’s highly unlikely enough of his Senate counterparts will do the same, Alaska’s lone Rep. Don Young (R) voted in favor of the bill.

Wilcox said she feels it will be a long time before federal legalization is a reality in part because so many different measures are being stuffed into one bill.

She described amendments for things like banking, taxes, regulation, decriminalization, social justice reform and other items can turn into a “hostage situation” between lawmakers.

“Any bill that does any component is going to get amended to include the other item,” she said. “So if it was a safe banking bill, I had expected people to be uncomfortable that there weren’t social justice provisions there and vise versa. If someone had introduced just a social justice bill, if the banking component wasn’t moving, someone may perhaps try to amend that in a different direction.”

If lawmakers don’t like one part of the bill, they can vote to not pass it even if they like another part of the bill. Forcing the legislation to continually cycle through the process without anything changing.

Wilcox said she’s a fan of incremental change. Her solution: split them up into different bills.

“I call it ‘a la carte’ legislation,” she said. “You can move the dial on things that are needed right now while you have a bigger conversation about reforming the past and moving forward with what the criminal element and social justice reparation for people who have suffered through this war on drugs would look like. You can be a little bit more singularly focused on doing a really good job on both bits.”

She made it clear that’s how she feels, but not everyone advocating for federal legalization does.

Wilcox said all the changes listed in the bill need to happen in her eyes, but some need more work.

For the businesses that are already established, like hers, they’re still waiting for banking and tax cuts. While many fear what federal regulation would look like, she said an additional 5% tax wouldn’t be as bad if they were allowed to start using loans and getting tax cuts. That’s one of the reasons she advocates for one thing at a time with federal legalization.

While it’s being called historic, Wilcox said everyone should acknowledge that it’s still only a bill.

“As much as I want to be super, super excited about the language, it needs work,” she said. “And then the obvious, which is likelihood that it’ll pass in the Senate which is pretty close to zero. We’ve seen the safe banking language in the Sentate bill for multiple years now. So as much as I want to get really really excited, I’m a realist.”

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