Why Republicans Need to Embrace Cannabis

Republicans weren't too pleased about the cannabis industry's inclusion in the latest coronavirus stimulus package. Here's why they're wrong.

Modern conservatism, in many respects, is a continuation of Reaganism — acting in opposition to communism, and the "left," while promoting small government and tax cuts. Admittedly, Donald Trump's brand of conservatism is a departure from Reagan's, with his nationalist, America-first ideology, in which he seeks to build walls rather than tear them down.

Though one thing that Reaganites and the Trump Administration seem to agree on is that cannabis is a big no-no. 

In the 1980s, Reagan famously said that cannabis was "probably the most dangerous drug in the United States." 

While Trump has comparatively been rather laissez-faire when it comes to cannabis legalization, saying that he would "leave it to the states," his party still have their reservations about the drug. 

The clearest example of this was just last week when the House of Representatives passed the second coronavirus stimulus bill, named the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act. The HEROES Act, which is valued at roughly USD $3 trillion, makes little effort to hide the fingerprints of the Democrats that introduced the bill, factoring in provisions for immigrants, cancelling college debt, and allowing the cannabis industry to access financial institutions.

Understandably, Republicans called the HEROES Act a "grab bag" of "Democrat policies," with Republican Leader Mitch McConnell taking a particular gripe with the cannabis provisions.

When speaking on the HEROES Act, McConnell said that the word "cannabis" appears in the bill 68 times. That's "more times than the word 'job' and four times as many as the word 'hire.'" 

This quickly became a talking point among Republicans, with U.S. Senator Ted Cruz retweeting it, joking that "smoking pot can make you repeat yourself" in reference to how many times cannabis was mentioned in the Bill. Additionally, fellow U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy mentioned that giving "banking privileges to marijuana companies" as "absolutely ridiculous." 

But just how ridiculous is it? 

The COVID-19 pandemic brought the global economy to a halt, with nearly 40 million Americans now filing for unemployment benefits as a result of the shutdown measures. Not only that but the U.S. economy, in particular, is hemorrhaging cash in order to continue stimulating the economy — sinking trillions of dollars deeper in debt. This is where the cannabis industry fits into the equation.

For years now, the cannabis industry has been among the largest job creators in the U.S., with States like Massachusetts seeing their cannabis industry grow up to 333% and creating tens of thousands of jobs. In Colorado, where cannabis was made recreationally legal in 2014, the State has since generated over USD $1 billion in total state revenue from its marijuana industry.

More recently, cannabis dispensaries have seen a spike in sales, largely due to the fact that in virtually every state where the plant is legal, dispensaries were deemed an "essential" service. This meant that while other industries had to close, the cannabis industry stayed open, and thrived. States like Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio all reported an increase in sales during the COVID-19 shutdowns, and the same is true in Canada, where the plant is federally legal. 

And yet, despite the boon that the cannabis industry is providing to the U.S. in a time of need, the industry at large is still hampered by the fact that financial institutions are reluctant to deal with the industry, cannabis companies weren't included in the first coronavirus stimulus, and workers in the industry can't access the Paycheck Protection Program. 

At a time where the United States' economy needs cashflow, making things easier for the cannabis industry would seem like a no-brainer. However, it isn't simply due to economic reasons that many conservatives oppose cannabis; it's also opposed for social reasons. 

Many fear of the social ramifications that come packaged with cannabis legalization, particularly that adolescents will see legalization as a green-light to get stoned, and consumption rates among youths will skyrocket as a result. 

Though this appears to be generally untrue, with studies showing that teen use of cannabis actually decreases in states where the plant is made legal. This is believed to be due to a reduced "forbidden fruit'' effect, in that the rebellious aspect of cannabis consumption is removed, and therefore it becomes less attractive to adolescents. Moreover, with more stringent I.D. regulations coming from dispensaries, it is likely harder to get weed while underage from your nearest dispensary than it is from a drug dealer. 

And for adults, cannabis consumption rates don't change much after legalization either. 

You then have the substitutive effects of cannabis legalization, such as a reduction in the binge drinking of alcohol, and early studies showing that medical cannabis may help to lower the prevalence of opioid prescription, misuse, and ultimately fatalities. 

While none of this is to say that cannabis is perfect, or that it isn't subject to misuse and abuse, it is to say that there are real, tangible benefits to cannabis legalization that often get overlooked by conservatives when discussing cannabis legalization, or in this case, the mere ability for the industry to access financial institutions. 

In the five decades since the War on Drugs was launched, what has been achieved other than spending tens of billions each year in police expenditure, while allowing cartels to fill the void for those who continue to smoke weed regardless of legality? 

Perhaps it's time for The Republican Party to come around on the cannabis front. 

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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