Legalization Progresses at the Federal Level
Marijuana legalization in the U.S. has been mostly a grass roots affair, with progress coming mainly at the state and local levels. On rare occasions we see some incremental advancement on the federal level. In early December, we saw two such changes.
The biggest headline involved a single sentence in a 1,600 page budget bill. Essentially, it says that he Justice Department, including the DEA and the FBI, can no longer use federal funds for marijuana enforcement against anyone complying with state marijuana laws. I am ecstatic to see this federal acknowledgment of the legitimacy of our industry.
Last year the Justice Department’s Cole Memo said that the federal government would not prosecute marijuana businesses that complied with state laws under certain specific circumstances. Early this year, the Departments of Justice and Treasury issued guidance to banks specifying the conditions under which they could bank members of our industry. This month’s law is another step in this progression toward the end of federal prohibition.
Around the time that this new bill passed, the Department of Justice announced that Native American tribes can grow and distribute marijuana on tribal lands, provided that they follow the same federal enforcement guidelines established by the Cole Memo for implementing state marijuana laws. News reports indicate that at least three tribes–in California, Washington and the Midwest–have expressed some interest in entering this business.
Regardless of whether any tribes enter the industry, this announcement represents one more crack in the dam of prohibition. Steps like these, small and incremental though they are, set the stage for bigger changes like moving marijuana to Schedule 2 or repealing IRS Code Section 280e, which unfairly penalizes state compliant cannabis businesses. Legalization remains a largely local endeavor, but this type of movement at the federal level brings us a little closer to to our goal of ending marijuana prohibition.