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Explained: The Presidency And Delayed Decriminalization

Sup with the delay on decriminalization? Wasn’t that supposed to happen like, yesterday? Here we outline the reasons for the delay stemming from the office of the commander-in-chief, and look at when we can expect official decriminalization – if ever.

Decriminalization Angst

Currently in the US, there are over 15 states that have either legalized cannabis completely or have legalized cannabis for medical purposes. So what’s delaying the federal government from following suit? For one, recent reports of federal employees being reprimanded for admitting past marijuana use. This is at complete odds with the cannabis laws and regulations in Washington D.C., where weed is legal, and on the surface appears to cast doubt on the prospect of any federal cannabis legalization. The issue of decriminalization, however, is a bit more nuanced.

The SAFE Banking Act

The main issue with keeping weed illegal at the federal level is in how it impacts dispensaries’ abilities to conduct their business efficiently and effectively in terms of legal banking. It’s currently illegal for banks and other financial institutions to work with legal cannabis companies, making it extremely difficult for such companies to receive the same banking benefits as any other business. As of the writing of this article, legal dispensaries operate largely on a cash-only basis, which poses inherent security risks to employees and the dispensaries themselves. What the SAFE Banking Act attempts to do is remove any ability for the federal government to penalize a bank for working with a legal cannabis company. This will not only open up cannabis companies to more growth, but will also provide most banks with an influx of money as well.

Will The SAFE Banking Act Pass?

The bill currently has bi-partizan support in the House of Representatives and is scheduled for a vote within the next week or so. Since 2019, different incarnations of the SAFE Banking Act have passed through the House on at least two other occasions, only to be struck down by the Senate, which at the time was Republican controlled. But now – given the Senate is now controlled by Democrats – there’s renewed optimism that the SAFE Act could finally become the first piece of pro-cannabis legislation passed by the US government, which would hopefully make the road to federal decriminalization a much smoother journey.

Advocates Who Want More

Complicating the path to federal decriminalization, however, are marijuana advocates who believe the social justice reforms around cannabis need to be addressed prior to the passage of the SAFE Act, since they believe the SAFE Act is only benefiting businesses. While it’s true the act does primarily impact businesses, it’s passage would be a huge win for marijuana reform and would set a precedent for future marijuana legislation to be passed as well – ideally in the form of federal decriminalization. Regardless of the order of passage, it’s hard to argue which bills should become laws first given that no cannabis reform laws have been successful at the federal level to date.

Next Steps To Decriminalization 

Regardless of the outcome of the SAFE Act, there are still a few options that can be taken to help push forward federal cannabis decriminalization. One way is by President Biden ordering the DEA to reclassify marijuana from a schedule 1 drug to something other than a drug. Descheduling marijuana would not need to be voted upon, and is an order President Biden himself can hand down. Another option would be a federal cannabis legalization bill that senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) are actually currently spearheading. A bill of this magnitude would address the social justice reform element and would take care of the issues addressed in the SAFE Act, all under one piece of legislation. Hopefully the cannabis reform train is just getting started.

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