This Thursday, April 20, marks the annual unofficial holiday celebrated around the world by marijuana users. And this year, “4/20” will be observed while America’s burgeoning legal cannabis industry sits at a crossroads.
Public opinion polls indicate that support for marijuana legalization is at an all-time high in the U.S., and November’s election saw four new states vote to legalize recreational cannabis while another four states legalized medical pot. As a result, a majority of the U.S. population lives in a state with some access to legal marijuana. However, cannabis remains illegal on the federal level, and the new administration of President Donald Trump has sent several mixed messages about how it intends to treat the issue of statewide marijuana legalization.
On Wednesday, Democratic congressman from Oregon Earl Blumenauer voiced his support for the “amazing progress” the marijuana legalization movement has made recently while on a conference call with reporters to discuss his efforts to reform federal marijuana laws.
Citing polls, Blumenauer said that “marijuana has gone mainstream,” and that it would behoove the federal government to update its stance on cannabis, as the product’s blossoming industry is pulling in annual tax revenue in the nine figures. Oregon alone reported more than $60 million in state tax revenue from local legal pot sales last year. Overall in the U.S., legal marijuana sales reached an estimated $6.7 billion in 2016, and some analysts predict that number could reach as high as $50 billion annually within a decade.
In February, Blumenauer was part of a bi-partisan group of federal lawmakers that launched the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, which aims to reform policy to ensure growth in the legal marijuana industry. The Democratic congressman also recently joined some of his colleagues to introduce a bipartisan package of bills called the “Path to Marijuana Reform,” which include proposed legislation that would update the federal tax code, a hurdle that currently makes it almost impossible for legal marijuana businesses to claim deductions on their federal tax forms. Other bills have been proposed to address the legal marijuana industry’s banking issues and to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and regulate the drug like alcohol on the federal level.
After decades of federal prohibition, Blumenauer said on Wednesday he sees the tide turning in favor of legalized marijuana. Support from voters, and the fact that polls show 60% of Americans are in favor of legalization, is putting pressure on lawmakers to bow to public opinion. “I don’t think they want to pick a fight to be on the wrong side of the American public,” Blumenauer said.
At the same time, Congress has “received inconsistent signals from [the Trump] administration on a wide variety of issues,” the congressman says. President Trump expressed support for legal medical marijuana while campaigning for the White House. And, at various times, Trump also said he thought that decisions on marijuana legalization should be left to individual states. However, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said earlier this year that he expects to see “greater enforcement” of federal marijuana laws in states that have decided to legalize the drug for recreational purposes.
Meanwhile, Trump also brought in former Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, a fierce opponent of marijuana legalization, to serve as U.S. Attorney General and head the Department of Justice. In that role, Sessions has already ordered a Justice Department task force to conduct a review of its policies toward enforcing marijuana laws while hinting at a potential crackdown.
Despite those ominous signals, Blumenauer remains confident that reform of federal marijuana laws in the near future is a realistic goal. “It has come of age politically,” he said.