With the spread of the pandemic, the economy has hit a new low. That and the widespread atmosphere of social turmoil has yet again brought cannabis legalization to the forefront.
Industry experts and policy members say that the marijuana industry can serve as an ‘economic engine’ to help manage the economic crisis.
States are making a move to reduce the penalties for possession and use of marijuana. It could prove as a start to further measures taken towards broader legalization of cannabis.
The existence of age-old laws that criminalised cannabis possession and use, and jailed Black people unreasonably for non-violent offences, are now seen as behind the times. The prevalent social unrest has caused several US states to moderate those old laws.
Karen O’Keefe, The director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said, “I expect a record number of states to legalize marijuana in 2021, in part due to the financial pressures, along with the racial injustice imperative to reduce unnecessary police-civilian interactions.”
An amendment was added to a bill in Colorado that aimed at expanding the state’s legal marijuana industry with a provision that would allow the Democratic Governor, Jared Polis, to extirpate residents with minor cannabis convictions.
Nevada, too, absolved more than 15,500 people who were found guilty of carrying less than an ounce of weed.
Even New Jersey is taking steps towards decriminalization legislation. Virginia’s recent decriminalization law includes a provision to create a group that would evaluate the impact of cannabis legalization.
Georgia lawmakers have added decriminalization to a police reform bill. However, according to the Savannah Morning News reports, its approval seems difficult with the state’s Republican-controlled General Assembly and the legislative session ending on June 30.
Kevin Sabet, the co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, told CNN Business, that although the organization is against full-scale legalization of Marijuana, they support decriminalizing minor possession of the flower.
He further said, via email, “Decriminalization begins the process of healing past harms while also forgoing the creation of a new, predatory industry keen on marketing extremely potent marijuana products.”
People who’ve been in support of legalization of Cannabis, have advocated eliminating illegal market activity, generating additional tax income and righting the injustice caused in the past.
Jessica Billingsley, chief executive officer of Akerna, which makes regulatory software that tracks the sale of cannabis from seed to sale, said, “At the end of the day, economics talk and jobs talk. I truly believe we’re going to see some very meaningful and important movement coming out of this as states and governors look for a way to bolster their economy.”
According to the data from BDS Analytics, in 2019, cannabis sales had totaled about $15 billion in states that legalized it for medical as well as recreational use. They are expected to reach a whopping figure of $30 billion by 2024.
At the start of 2020, the US Cannabis industry had about 243,700 full-time employees, according to cannabis site Leafly.
During the pandemic, states, where cannabis is legal, deemed the drug an essential commodity. Sales remained steady throughout the pandemic, and states like Washington and California saw an increase too.
It has led to a growing notion in the industry that cannabis may be a recession-proof commodity and could be a cure for the sliding economy.
However, policy experts and economists advise against viewing marijuana legalization as a cure-all for state fiscal woes.
Ulrik Boesen, a senior policy analyst for the Tax Foundation, told CNN Business, “This is no short-term solution because it takes time. If you’re looking at the fiscal year 2021 that you’re worried about, legalizing marijuana isn’t going to be a solution.”