The Current Landscape Of Federal Law Governing Cannabis

Published date23 December 2021
Subject MatterFood, Drugs, Healthcare, Life Sciences, Cannabis & Hemp, Food and Drugs Law
Law FirmBrownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP
AuthorMr Joshua A. Weiss

For the past 50 years, federal law has prohibited the use, cultivation, and distribution of cannabis. These prohibitions have had long-term and far-reaching effects: taxpayers spend some $3,600,000,000 annually on enforcement of cannabis prohibition and cannabis accounts for more than a half million arrests by the FBI each year. And communities of color are far overrepresented in arrests and convictions for cannabis possession, despite equal usage among demographics.

While federal prohibition has continued, states and territories have embarked on their own legalization efforts. Today, medical cannabis is legal in 36 states, four permanently inhabited territories, and the District of Columbia. Recreational cannabis is legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia. And another 13 states have decriminalized cannabis. This has led to a tense balancing act in which each legal state has cultivated its own internal regulatory regime and cannabis industry while attempting to avoid enforcement actions initiated by federal law enforcement officials.

The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act Could Radically Change the Legal Landscape

For a number of years various efforts have been made in Congress to repeal cannabis prohibitions, but without any real success to date. The latest attempt'and perhaps the most high profile'is the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), sponsored by Sens. Booker (D-NJ); Schumer (D-NY); and Wyden (D-OR). The bill seeks to rectify the adverse effects of the War on Drugs and reinvest in communities of color by decriminalizing and descheduling cannabis. The bill also includes other significant provisions, including a reshuffle of agency responsibility for cannabis,

Among these proposed changes, industry observers and cannabis law experts have focused on what is likely to be a highly contentious, practical impact of any federal decriminalization of cannabis: interstate commerce. The cannabis industry is worth some $61 billion nationwide, with customers spanning generational divides. States with legal cannabis have seen billions of dollars in additional tax revenue; and the cannabis industry is responsible for some 321,000 full-time jobs nationwide. If a federal legalization instantly enables interstate commerce of cannabis, as the CAOA would, it could upend mature and established state economies and the small businesses thriving within them.

For example, California and Oregon have experienced significant cannabis...

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