State powers, regulation and fair taxation are at the heart of legalizing marijuana
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When I was first elected to the California State Legislature back in 2014, I too, admittedly, was skeptical about whether taxing and regulating cannabis could be effectively implemented.

As someone who spent 28 years in the California Highway Patrol, grew up in a small-town mining town in the Mojave Desert and have never had a sip of alcohol in my life, I am probably the last person you would ever expect to support cannabis reform.

However, shortly after being elected, I was approached by law enforcement to help craft a regulatory system for medical marijuana, which has been legal in California since 1996 but was completely unregulated for nearly 20 years after.


After successfully getting a new system enacted into law in 2015 with bipartisan support, it became clear to me that states should be able to make their own decisions on this issue. If done thoughtfully and deliberately, the public safety benefits of a well-regulated cannabis market could work well in states across the nation.

It is important to consider sensible cannabis policy reform as a states’ rights and federalism issue. Under the 10th Amendment, jurisdiction over intrastate commerce belongs to the states. Protecting California’s constitutional right to regulate a legal cannabis industry within our own borders is not a “red” or “blue” issue.

While cannabis reform might not be supported or enacted by every state, I trust that true conservatives, who believe in and support our Constitution, can agree that protecting our 10th Amendment rights, no matter the issue, should be of the utmost importance. In a nation as large and diverse as the United States, our founding fathers were remarkable in their foresight to create a federalist system with states free to make key decisions for themselves.

This is also a matter of public safety. We already know the black market for cannabis has thrived in jurisdictions where it is illegal. Unfortunately when this is the case, it is criminals who entirely benefit. Instead, cannabis policy should be entrusted to local regulators and law enforcement officials with the right to determine the best way to enforce cannabis laws for their own communities.

Current practices allow for the best prioritization of limited national and local investigative and prosecutorial resources. Law enforcement can focus on critical public safety issues and more effectively fight international drug cartels, violent drug-related crimes and the spread of dangerous drugs like heroin and opioids that continue to devastate our communities.

Regulating cannabis has already shrunk the criminal market, made cannabis safer and created jobs. In fact, New Frontier Data recently estimated that the cannabis industry will create more jobs than manufacturing by 2020 with between 100,000 and 150,000 workers already being employed by the industry.

The California Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that our state stands to capture as much as $1 billion in tax revenue as a result of the voters’ decision to legalize recreational cannabis use statewide last November. Far better for this revenue to be spent on public safety, education and other governments services than to go into the pockets of cartels and organized crime.

The vast majority of the licensed and regulated cannabis businesses are compliant and transparent. The legal industry closely tracks cannabis products from seed to sale, tests all products, checks government issued identification of all consumers, and responsibly engages with our communities. This is a far cry from what is occurring now in the black market.

Respect for federalism, state powers, regulation and fair taxation are at the heart of this matter, in addition to the economic and societal benefits. I hope to work alongside the administration and Congress to provide guidance and legislation that creates an environment for state-legal cannabis industries that supports our constitution and the wellbeing of our constituents.

If we fail to support sensible frameworks for states, the black market and the criminals that profit from them will continue to flourish.

Tom Lackey is a California state assemblyman.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.