Here's What You Need To Know About the Republican Cannabis Decriminalization Bill
Published on 2/11/22
Decriminalization remains one of the biggest dreams of the cannabis community. Countless lives have been affected by federal, state, and local governments aggressively punishing cannabis use, despite its relative safety compared to legalized substances like alcohol or tobacco. As the wave of decriminalization advances across states, with many holding and passing referendums on decriminalization or full legalization, one major roadblock remains; the federal laws that list cannabis as a Schedule 1 narcotic - making it just as illegal on a federal level to buy and sell cannabis as it is for other highly addictive substances like cocaine or heroin. Even if it is your first time smoking cannabis, therefore, the federal government has the right to prosecute your case to the point of extreme penalties, including jail time. Some half a million Americans are arrested for cannabis use, possession, trafficking, or intent to sell each year.
Luckily, the use of cannabis in the general population has grown to the point where federal marijuana decriminalization is no longer a fringe topic. The state of the plant took a step forward in November when South Carolina House Representative Nancy Mace of the Republican Party introduced legislation meant to decriminalize the federal punishments for cannabis. How can this bill affect cannabis users, and what does it mean in the wider range of American politics?
A History of Bipartisanship
For much of the past century, one of the few areas of agreement between the two major American political parties was the enforcement of the prohibition drug law. Ever since Republican president Richard Nixon signed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act in 1971, the nation has participated in the "War on Drugs" that has claimed countless lives and livelihoods. Republicans running for office touted their tough-on-crime stance regarding cannabis, while Democrats' strong connection to unions meant they wanted to emphasize clean working conditions. For decades, cannabis reform was a niche issue, relegated to the most liberal politicians and locations. Even prominent politicians who promised reform, such as Democrat Barack Obama, failed to mitigate the issue or drastically reduce the number of Americans imprisoned for drug charges.
Representative Mace's initiative to decriminalize federal cannabis laws represents a significant break from party and policy. However, this initiative isn't her first rodeo. As a representative in the South Carolina legislature, Mace had attempted to enact cannabis reform in a state with little appetite for drug reform. The success of South Carolina's Compassionate Care Act, which permitted some forms of non-smokable medical marijuana for South Carolinians, represented major progress considering the state is one of the strongest drug prosecutors in the nation today.
Mace herself said that she tried cannabis after a traumatic life event and, like so many other people throughout the country, found that it helped with her mental and psychological issues. Instead of taking prescribed antidepressants in the wake of a sexual assault, Mace used cannabis and discovered it to be beneficial while she was in an "extraordinarily difficult place." After sharing her experience, she found that others with PTSD (or other mental health concerns) wanted to speak up about their traumas and their relief with cannabis. She also referenced that in addition to countless Americans who have died from opioid overdose, one of her own family members had overdosed. The lawmaker now views cannabis as a non-addictive substitute, meaning that decriminalization is a logical path forward - something that every cannabis fan will be happy to tell you.
Law and Order
Representative Mace's bill, a 131-page piece of legislation called the States Reform Act, would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances list and apply a 3% federal tax on the sale of cannabis wherever it is legalized. The legislation also calls for non-violent drug records to be expunged from the federal record, affecting thousands of Americans. However, this amnesty would not be extended to cartel or gang members arrested in tandem with drug crimes. Finally, cannabis would be federally regulated like alcohol, meaning its tax collection would fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Treasury, the organization that collects excise taxes, while the Department of Agriculture regulates the cultivation of cannabis itself. The bill would not legalize cannabis, nor would it require any state to ease its own criminal laws on the drug.
The bill's likelihood of becoming law is no guarantee. For starters, many Republicans are in no mood for cannabis reform. Drew McKissick, South Carolina's Republican Party chairman, said in response to the bill's introduction that the party fully supports strict enforcement of all drug laws, including cannabis law. McKissick claimed that decriminalization would have negative repercussions for children, families, community safety, and mental health.
However, not all of Mace's fellow Republicans remain in the old mindset of cannabis as a social scourge. The Americans for Prosperity and Cannabis Freedom Alliance is an organization founded by the conservative Koch billionaires, who threw their support behind the passage of Mace's bill. Additionally, Gary Hess, the executive director of the Veterans Alliance for Holistic Alternatives, referenced how the bill provides provisions for supporting veteran mental health at a time when former military members are far more likely to commit suicide than the general population.
Representative Mace, in response, asked whether the GOP is trying to make her a scapegoat of broader political issues by leaving her out to dry so that they can create a stronger image. It also comes after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer put forward the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, a sweeping reform bill that has yet to gain momentum in Congress. Cannabis reform may be inching closer towards ending prohibition, and this bill represents progress, but it won't end decades of failed policy overnight.
Are you active in the decriminalization or legalization movement? How have your friends, family members, or community reacted to changes in cannabis law? Let us know in the comments below!