What was once a red and blue issue has now attracted a growing set of proponents from both sides of the aisle. Here’s what that could mean for regulation of legal cannabis in the U.S.
Source: The Street
By Kinsey Grant
Apr 23, 2018
Even just a decade ago, many of those who supported widespread legalization of marijuana carried a heavy stereotype: left-leaning hippies who only wanted legal pot so they could smoke it freely.
But today, that characterization couldn’t be further from the truth as money starts to flow into the cannabis space. There are 29 states in the U.S. that have some form of medical and/or recreational weed legalized. The international cannabis industry is now worth about $7.7 billion and is expected to grow to as much as $30 billion by 2021.
Those figures illustrate a reality both Republicans and Democrats can get behind — legal weed makes a lot of money. Recent estimates from New Frontier Data suggest cannabis could create $104.5 billion in federal tax revenue and 1 million new jobs by 2021.
If you still think that legalizing pot at the federal level is a political issue, you’re among the dumbest on Wall Street.
A record 64% of Americans polled by Gallup think marijuana should be made legal across the U.S., and a record 45% of Americans have tried marijuana. A massive 70% of people are in favor of medical use pot. And 50% of people said marijuana isn’t a problem in their area.
Among young Americans aged 18 to 29 years, 49% of Democrats support legalizing weed, while 50% of Republicans oppose it, according to data from Harvard University. As the gap between the two grows smaller, some of marijuana’s biggest proponents have come out of the woodwork from both sides of the aisle, signaling a remarkable shift in sentiment.
Last week, Acreage Holdings, one of the largest cannabis holding companies in the U.S., announced that former Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner is joining its advisory board. That’s the same Ohio republican who once said he was “unalterably opposed” to marijuana legalization.
“My thinking on cannabis has evolved,” Boehner said in a tweet following the announcement. “I’m convinced de-scheduling the drug is needed so we can do research, help our veterans and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities.”
And last week, Senate Majority Leader and hardline Republican Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said he wants to legalize hemp, a non-psychoactive byproduct of cannabis plants. While hemp can’t get you high like marijuana can, and is typically used as a fiber in manufacturing, it’s a step in a direction that many might not have seen coming from the senator.
And even those who oppose legalization appear to do so with relative ambivalence: “Among conservatives, many who believe marijuana should be illegal nonetheless support states’ right to legalize it and take a dim view of government’s ability to enforce a ban,” Brookings Institution found.
“This is a bipartisan issue,” said Keegan Peterson, CEO of Wurk, a workforce management company designed specifically for the cannabis industry. “It’s small business supporting small business.”
“People are getting more comfortable with the risk profile,” Peterson said. “Everyone, regardless of their political stance, is going to want to be a part of this,” Peterson said. With that, legal weed isn’t a political issue — it’s a business opportunity.
The prevailing theory is that there won’t be a rescheduling or deregulation of marijuana so long as President Donald Trump is in the White House. “Where we lie today is exactly where we’ll lie until there’s a new administration,” Peterson said.
But even Trump, who is viewed among industry insiders as something of a shirker when it comes to this specific issue, has shown leniency. After Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner said in January he would block all Justice Department nominations when Attorney General Jeff Sessions targeted the legal weed space, President Trump last week called Gardner and told him he will support congressional efforts to protect states with already-legal marijuana.
“We have states now that have legalized it and show that this actually works,” Peterson said. “To me in the next 10 years we’re going to see federal legalization.”
He explained that if the federal government were to make a move toward criminalizing marijuana any further, there would be “such a backlash” from states with regulated cannabis laws that it might actually help push federal deregulation forward.
“They’re just throwing gas on the fire now,” Peterson said.