One cure for an ailing American economy: Legalize cannabis

One cure for an ailing American economy: Legalize cannabis
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America’s next president will face an unprecedented array of challenges, chief among them an economy in ruins and an ugly social divide.

Having served in government for nearly three decades, including as Senate majority leader, I know that there’s no silver bullet that can magically solve all of these problems. 

However, I’ve also learned that progress comes from unexpected places and that states often see the future before the federal government. 

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Legalizing cannabis — as 40 states have already done for either medical or recreational purposes— can’t cure all that ails America. Still, for the next president, it can help drive progress on multiple critical issues.

First, legal cannabis will help create new businesses and new jobs and generate additional tax revenues. It’s already a $16 billion-dollar market where it is legal, with the total market worth an estimated $75 billion. We’re well on the path to de facto legalization on a state level; in fact, many states deemed access to cannabis to be an essential service at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The next president can take us the rest of the way. 

Second, criminalizing cannabis has created more social ills than it has cured. Without access to mainstream banking, the thriving illicit cannabis market is more susceptible to organized crime and poses a serious threat to public safety. America ended Prohibition because it simply didn’t work, and it is clear that the current criminalization of cannabis at the federal level doesn’t work either.

Third, the war on drugs (however well intentioned) has destroyed more lives than it has saved. Local law enforcement has been transformed into a paramilitary force focused on arresting low-level users, with overwhelming racial disparity in possession arrests skewed toward people of color. Incarceration for nonviolent drug crimes is often unjust. It creates long-term consequences throughout that person’s lifetime, namely the obvious challenge of getting a job and an average reduction of wage growth by about 30 percent for those who can find work. Nationally, police dedicate nearly $4 billion annually to enforce cannabis possession laws. Can we honestly say the staggering human and economic costs are worth it? 

Lastly, cannabis offers potential that legalization can help explore. While we have a handful of Food and Drug Administration-approved medications derived from cannabis, anecdotal evidence is giving way to clinical data illustrating promise in a variety of therapeutic areas. This is, of course, in addition to mounting evidence that cannabis has reduced opioid use and harm from opioid use.

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For the next president, it’s time to legalize cannabis.

As with alcohol, this can be done safely and responsibly. An organized regulatory framework will provide tax revenue for underfunded governments, enable companies to act carefully, innovate with safe and legal products, and allow for necessary scientific medical research to be funded and conducted. Also, removing the constraints of the state-by-state legalization allows the benefits of a free and open global cannabis market. It opens new opportunities for the advancement of medical treatments and patient access by allowing legal cannabis ingredients and pharmaceuticals to cross borders freely.  

Politicians on the fringes will rail that nobody wants legalization and everyone fears it. Let’s stand up and call that what it is: nonsense. Legalization of cannabis, far from being unpopular with voters, is already overwhelmingly supported by Americans and well on its way to being a de facto reality in most states.  

While I did not advocate for legal cannabis while I was a senator, my viewpoint has vastly evolved in recent years, and my passion for improving how our society delivers health care as well as pioneering social and political change has never been more apparent. I am thrilled to be able to work firsthand in driving this change through my role on the board of advisers at Clever Leaves International Inc., a multinational operator and licensed producer of medical cannabis. Clever Leaves, which operates in compliance with U.S. federal and state law, has a central goal to “change lives” by enabling access to safe and effective medical cannabis treatments for patients around the world, and I believe in that goal. I am inspired by its mission and aim to use my political platform to stand by its cause. 

The demand for the reevaluation of the cannabis regulatory frameworks is imperative as our country begins the recovery process from the COVID-19 pandemic. Now more than ever, states need new businesses, new jobs and additional tax revenues. They need the next president to legalize cannabis, and the sooner, the better.

Former Sen. Tom Daschle is one of the longest-serving Senate Democratic leaders in history and one of only two to serve twice as both majority and minority leader. Daschle is also the founder and CEO of the Daschle Group, a public policy advisory of Baker Donelson. This legal and government affairs firm advises clients on a broad array of economic, policy and political issues. In 2019, he joined the board of advisers for Clever Leaves, a multinational cannabis operator, to bring his experience in health care policy reform to the company’s expansion in the global medical cannabis market.