By MICHAEL PATTERSON
With over 93 percent of Americans approving medical marijuana and over 60 percent approving full legalization of cannabis at the federal level, there is very little "political risk" by either party to move legislation through Congress to legalize marijuana, in some fashion. The STATES Act was recently reintroduced in the Senate and has over 20 co-sponsors. The STATES act would keep marijuana illegal at the federal level but allow for states to operate legal cannabis industries without US government interference and allow banking to all marijuana businesses without reprisal.
The act would amend the Controlled Substances Act so that states and Indian tribes complying with state or tribal law would no longer see many of the act's provisions apply. But it would continue to prohibit the endangerment of human life while manufacturing controlled substances and bar anyone under age 18 from working in the marijuana industry.
Other areas of the STATES Act include prohibiting the sale or distribution of marijuana to people under age 21 and prohibiting the sale or distribution at federal transportation facilities like truck stops and rest areas.
The Government Accountability Office would be ordered to study the effects of legal marijuana on traffic safety and states' testing standards and clarify banking and financial regulations between states where marijuana is legal and the federal financial system.
The measure has support from a host of various banking, civil rights and drug policy organizations.
Senator Corey Gardner (R- Colorado) who introduced the bill said a few weeks ago that Trump had reiterated his support for this year's measure. "The President has been very clear to me that he supports our legislation. He opposed the actions that were taken by the Attorney General to reverse the Cole Memorandum, and believes that we need to fix this and that is why he believes the STATES Act is the right way to do this," Gardner said in the news conference announcing the measure.
Attorney General William Barr testified on April 10, 2019 that his staff is looking into the STATES Act and will provide comment soon. "Once we get those comments, we'll be able to work with you on any concerns about the STATES law," Barr told Congress. "But I would much rather that approach, the approach taken by the STATES Act, than where we currently are."
Barr said he would still favor a rule that barred marijuana federally but said he was open to a different approach. "Personally, I would still favor one uniform federal rule against marijuana, but if there is no sufficient consensus to obtain that, then I think the way to go is to permit a more federal approach so states can make their own decisions within the framework of federal law, so we're not just ignoring the enforcement of federal law."
Affect of STATES Act on Florida
With so much support from industry groups on all sides and bipartisan members of Congress, the STATES Act has a high probability of passing and becoming law. If so, how would it affect Florida?
- Medical Marijuana (MMJ) patient growth will increase faster than expected - As of April 10, 2019, there are over 267,000 MMJ patients in Florida. The most common reasons given for people not to seek a Physician recommendation for MMJ are the illegality (at the federal level) and cost. With the passage of the STATES Act, the perception to the public will be that marijuana is now legal, which will facilitate fewer moral dilemmas with taking the medicine, therefore increasing the number of patients.
- Recreational Marijuana will come sooner than later - If the federal government will not intervene in state-run marijuana businesses, then Florida will have more pressure to legalize recreational cannabis so as not to get left behind by other states. The STATES Act will force state legislatures to pass recreational marijuana due to all the economic benefits such as increased employment and tremendous amounts of tax revenue.
- Marijuana and Hemp banking will skyrocket - Currently, it is extremely difficult to get a bank account if you own a marijuana business. Even hemp businesses have difficulty because most bankers don't understand that hemp is fully legal under federal law and they think hemp is marijuana (which it is not). Currently, there is only one bank, Lafayette Bank, in Florida who has publicly admitted they take marijuana money. By opening up banking, you open up access to capital and facilitate increased investment into Florida businesses.
- More acceptance of MMJ by medical professionals - With prohibition coming to an end, major Florida healthcare providers must begin to allow MMJ to be used inside their hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities. This will spur new opportunities for medical professionals to specialize in compliance relating to MMJ use in these large healthcare establishments.
Michael C. Patterson, founder and CEO of U.S. Cannabis Pharmaceutical Research & Development of Melbourne, is a consultant for the development of the medical marijuana industry nationwide and in Florida. He serves as a consultant to Gerson Lehrman Group, New York and helps educate GLG partners on specific investment strategies and public policy regarding Medical Marijuana in the U.S. and Internationally. He can be reached at email@example.com