Ron Knecht and James Smack: Time for federal prohibition of cannabis to end
December 19, 2018
Nevada Republicans suffered a significant setback in last month's elections, despite good efforts, and we need to revisit some issues. We won't change our principles, but it's time to square those principles with some changed facts on the ground.
Let's start with marijuana.
Consistent with Republican "leave us alone" principles that oppose federal micromanagement of people's lives, it's time for the federal government to make cannabis legal and get out of the way of the states on such matters.
The president and Republicans in Congress should lead the way.
The first action is simple: the federal government should reclassify cannabis. It shouldn't be a schedule one drug. Let's even go this far: completely decriminalize cannabis at the federal level.
With Republicans running point on the issue.
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The war on drugs, especially against cannabis, has been a dismal failure. Even before there was a recreational dispensary in nearly every major municipality in Nevada, it wasn't difficult to procure marijuana on the black market. Total social costs of this ineffectual war have greatly exceeded its total social benefits.
One person said, "Even before recreational cannabis was legal, I could get an ounce of weed delivered to my home faster than I could get a pizza." Already part of the service economy.
The electorates in three conservative states, Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah, voted to approve medical cannabis measures in this year's election. This leaves just six states that still consider cannabis to be illegal for any purpose: Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, West Virginia and Indiana.
We'll be surprised if several of those states don't at least pass medical cannabis initiatives by 2020. Nationwide, the people have spoken.
Yet, federal law still classifies cannabis as a schedule one drug, with no medical uses.
Why? There's huge money in big pharma, and if you follow the money, many folks waging this losing fight against the proliferation of medical and recreational cannabis have some association with big pharma.
There are substantially fewer deaths from using cannabis than using psychotropic drugs and opioid pain killers big pharma continues to tell us are safe. Big pharma wants to deflect attention from the problems their products cause and avoid competition from cannabis, so they rail at it.
Republicans nationwide should urge the Trump Administration and Congress to roll back the schedule one designation on cannabis and fully decriminalize it at the federal level. Let the states decide whether they want cannabis legalized for medical use only, recreational and medical use, or not legalized at all.
Also, Republican legislators should be developing bipartisan legislation, led by either the Republican minority in the House or our majority in the Senate, to eliminate cannabis banking restrictions and bring this industry into the 21st century. As controller and deputy controller, we're acutely aware of the financial and security problems federal prohibition has caused individuals and businesses, plus the states that have recognized even just the medical value of marijuana and legalized that use.
It's surprising we haven't heard more stories of people being robbed going into cannabis establishments, which are all-cash businesses. We're equally surprised there haven't been more robbery attempts at the dispensaries, which are often flush with cash.
Touring a medical dispensary a couple of years ago, James was told by the proprietor he must regularly take large amounts of cash to the bank. To put it into a safe deposit box, of course, because it would be illegal to have a bank account and own a dispensary. Leaving his shop, traveling to the bank and entering it, he's an obvious target for thieves.
So, the federal government needs promptly to do at least two things: eliminate the federal schedule one designation and fully decriminalize marijuana; and change banking regulations to let this industry and its people operate in a safe and financially secure manner. This will also solve problems states face in regulating and taxing it.
It's well past time for Republicans to square the federal cannabis issue with their principles, quit following the big pharma line, and let states make the decisions on cannabis based upon the will of their citizens.
Yes, follow the 10th amendment of the Constitution.
Ron Knecht is Nevada controller. James Smack is deputy controller.