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Pardon, Elections, And Why Weed Should Be Legal By Year’s End

It's time for weed to be legal
Written by Sarah Friedman

Oh, I mean it. And it’s not much of an option at this point for the US government, not if it doesn’t want to be buried in lawsuits, or look incredibly weak. Between a sweeping pardon with no legal change, and five states with ballot measures, all of which could pass; weed will have to be legal incredibly soon in the US, and likely by year’s end. Read on to understand why.

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But…will weed really be legal by the end of the year?

Okay, so I can’t actually see into the future, but when the pieces are put together, they tell a compelling story. One which has been playing out in front of us for years already. Between ballot measures, and legislative measures, 19 states have recreational legalizations, and nearly 40 have medical policies. Outside of that, nearly every state has some amount of a decriminalization policy. And why shouldn’t they? No one dies from weed.

Yet for this sweeping understanding that there aren’t dangers, and there are benefits; the US government has essentially been sitting around with its thumb up its butt, trying to tell us time and time again why we should be wary of the wacky weed, and repeatedly arresting people for nothing more than a joint. Imagine that, a huge and powerful government that can’t seem to understand basic principals that everyone else seems to get. Are they really that dumb?

No, of course not. Anyone who calls their government or elected officials dumb, is probably the dumb one; but that doesn’t mean that government actions always look smart to those watching. The government responds to corporate payments, and we know this. With all the information out there about payments from oil companies, pharmaceutical companies, biotech companies, and so on, even expecting the government to respond to its citizens needs, is off base. Maybe that’s how it should be, but hundreds of millions+ coming into government representative pockets says otherwise, and we just have to know that.

Corporate payments
Corporate payments

Corporate interest payments are quite compelling, as implied by how much policy revolves around these industries (opioids are legal but cannabis isn’t…hmm?) So it says quite a bit that these payments can no longer substantiate the illegal cannabis situation. In fact, its a massive indication of the power of the people, that the federal government is changing its stance, even with all that pharma and oil and gas money coming in to stop it. How much does the plastics industry want hemp? Not even a little! But the people want it so much, that it’s coming anyway. Weed is actually an indication of how strong we can be.

The current situation is an interesting one, certainly not planned on by the government. Planned or not, though, the situation now requires a decent and speedy response, and that response should come by year’s end. And really, it has to, or really soon after. That part isn’t speculation, and there are two reasons why.

#1 reason weed should be legal by year’s end: the pardon

If a pardon comes as an individual act for a crime, it doesn’t say anything for the crime in general, just for the person getting the pardon. Anyone else that committed the same crime previously, at the same time, or in the future, still faces all penalties. It doesn’t stop a crime from being a crime, it just helps out a single person, for whatever reason its offered. This was represented in the spring, when President Biden pardoned one cannabis conviction, and commuted the sentences of eight other cannabis offenders.

What happens when everyone who ever did a crime in the past gets pardoned for it? Isn’t that like saying it was never supposed to be considered a crime? And what happens when this is done, but with no legal precedent to stop future arrests and convictions for the same actions? Mayhem, perhaps? Or maybe just a bunch of lawsuits, and immediate case-dropping.

That’s the situation we’re in. Sounds sticky for a government that just indirectly admitted wrongdoing, but didn’t feel like updating laws immediately to correspond. On Thursday, October 6th, President Biden issued a sweeping pardon for ALL federal simple possession of cannabis cases ever tried in the US (for US citizens or permanent residents). All convictions for this particular crime, will be erased, with certifications given out. But the laws of prohibition still exist. And that means new people can get arrested and convicted for a crime everyone else got pardoned for. Want to guess on the lawsuit potential?

Biden did state that something must be done soon, but that’s nonspecific. Soon could mean in three years. Of course he had to say something, but that statement still doesn’t stop law enforcement from arresting more people now. Plus, not only has the government indirectly admitted wrongdoing, but its not offering compensation to anyone, while still leaving the door open for new arrests. It’s an insanely precarious situation. And one that highlights the discomfort the US government faces in this situation, which it now must expedite an answer for, because if its own action.

weed convictions
Weed convictions

One last point, the pardon doesn’t release anyone from prison. According to the government, no one is in federal prison for simple possession. The government is only collecting fines. While in 2019 alone there were over 500,000 simple possession arrests, “The White House estimates that about 6,500 people nationwide have federal convictions for simple possession of marijuana on their records since 1992.” Over 500,000 arrests in just one year (close to 29 million since 1965), and 6,500 convictions in almost 30 years? That’s a painful discrepancy, and points to this as a money industry for the government.

Sounds like law enforcement arrest literally anyone. And how many of those arrested are paying the fine, without a conviction? I can’t find any numbers for government revenue from cannabis fines, it seems that information is kept out of the press. Possibly because of how big that number is, and its mismatch with conviction numbers? This pardon doesn’t cover new arrests or convictions, and the numbers for those it helps sound uncomfortably small considering the number of arrests each year. However, convictions or not, the arrests roll in, and in huge numbers. Now, each new one is a new liability.

#2 reason weed should be legal by year’s end: the election

Yup, it’s that time of year again. The time when our overlords actually grant us the ability to have a say in things. And this time around, five states are putting it directly to voters to decide the fate of cannabis legality. While it should be six states, Oklahoma is being a bit of a jerk, and allowing technical system issues to outweigh allowing the measure, essentially putting it on the people, that its governance couldn’t get its stuff together appropriately. It is meant to be scheduled for 2023 or 2024, but shouldn’t be necessary by that point.

Five states do have approved ballot measures, all came in with way more signatures than needed, and all are likely to pass. In fact, one already did, two years ago. South Dakota passed a ballot measure during the 2020 elections to legalize cannabis, and its governor Kristi Noem, took it away. That state is up again and looking to right a wrong, along with North Dakota, Arkansas (which had to have its Supreme Court intervene to allow the measure), Maryland, and Missouri, which already has the bill written and ready to go.

The first thing to notice here is that these ballot measures are offered in states that just a couple years ago were not thought of as states that promoted cannabis legalization. That’s how much and how quickly things have changed. It’s not just states like California, New York, and Oregon, it’s now reaching into the south. Four out of five of these measures are for southern states, an area that was previously a stronghold for prohibition until very recently.

The second thing of note is just how much some governments are trying to deny making the change, like South Dakota’s legalization taken away. And Arkansas needing its Supreme Court to shoot down the State Board of Election Commissioner’s rejection of the ballot, even after all hoops were correctly jumped through. Yet, South Dakota is back at it, and Arkansas has its measure. And that says a huge amount too.

Ballot measure for legal weed
Ballot measure for legal weed

If all five pass, that’s 24 states, plus DC, and half of the physical population. And that’s just recreational. Let’s remember, the US government holds cannabis as Schedule I, meaning all medical programs and decriminalization measures, also go against federal policy. There are now almost 40 medically-legal states, and very few states without some form of decriminalization. That’s a lot of going against the federal government. How much does a federal mandate mean, when all its states go against it? According to Bloomberg, 74% of the population already live where they can legally access cannabis.

Truth is, even if just three pass (which will likely happen), it makes for bad optics for the federal government, and all five could go through. Should the federal government not immediately pass a new legal measure or drop prohibition laws, it then only represents 50% of the country (in terms of recreational), and is quickly headed toward the minority, with the majority of its states and territories already opposing legal measures (including all legalizations). No government wants such a weak position. Making it the second reason we can realistically expect weed to be legal by year’s end.

Conclusion

No, I can’t say it for sure. It could take longer, but the reality is that it can’t take that long, not with the standing situation. While I find it odd how little the legal disparity of allowing a pardon, but not changing laws to prevent more arrests for the same thing, is mentioned in the press; this is most certainly an issue, and a reason for extreme expedition of an actual legal change. Maybe Biden just wants to wait for elections, when the reality of being outnumbered, can no longer be denied. Between the two events, my money is on weed being legal by the end of this year.

As an aside, it doesn’t technically have to be legalized. It can be decriminalized to balance out the pardons and the states in contrast, or a personal use amount set. While these things can be done instead, the overall climate of the country dictates that a legalization – and the ability for a taxable market, is probably the end result.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.

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