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Federal Marijuana Legalization by 2024: How Will It Happen?

A pack of joints packaged too look like Marlboro cigarette packs. Pack is green with the word Marijuana stamped on front
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Joint Opinions

Federal Marijuana Legalization by 2024: How Will It Happen?

Over the past year, a number of lawmakers and industry experts have speculated the end to federal marijuana prohibition – casting predictions that cannabis will be legal across America within the next decade. The most recent forecast into America: The Land of the Weed comes spewing from the mouth of former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, who was recently appointed CEO of Cannabis Sativa, Inc., and is now using his clout in Washington, D.C. to lobby for what could be the first inception of Big Marijuana.

“I think in 10 years, for the most part, the U.S. will legalize marijuana,” Johnson told The Associated Press. “And what the U.S. does, so does the world.”

Yet, while the prophets of pot are all relatively consistent with their wagers on weed — presumably legal before 2024 — there lingers a cloud of irrefutable confusion surrounding the master plan of attack Uncle Sam will decide to launch once popular opinion dictates the time has come to make a move. The majority of cannabis advocates remain hopeful that the United States will, once and for all, repeal prohibition and establish a tax and regulatory system to propel the marijuana industry into the next industrial revolution. But, there is concern that Uncle Sam has already put the kibosh on this concept and is using cronies to establish a nationwide medical marijuana market on his own deviant terms.

Why else would the United States government, the same authority that still considers marijuana a Schedule I dangerous substance “with no medicinal value,” jump into bed with a foreign drug company and not only give them permission to study cannabis-based medicine, but also provide them with research facilities on American soil? While the answer is undeniably hypocritical and corrupt, this rare event could be an example of the arrant compromise the American government intends to use to finally control and profit from legal weed in a manner similar to its old friend Big Pharma.

Earlier this year, Britain’s GW Pharmaceuticals received approval from the U.S. government to begin exploring the medicinal benefits of the cannabis-based drug — Epidiolex, a syrupy concoction high in cannabidiol, also known as CBD, that has shown excellent results for treating children suffering from epilepsy.  The company was granted “fast track” approval by the Food and Drug Administration to expedite bringing its cannabis-spray – Sativex — to the American pharmaceutical market.

“Sativex is the only non-opioid treatment currently in Phase 3 development for patients who do not respond to, or experience negative side effects with opioid medications. We are fully committed to delivering the first FDA-approved cannabinoid medicine for these patients who currently have nowhere else to turn,” Justin Gover, CEO of GW Pharmaceuticals, said in a statement, implying that GW’s cannabis-based medicine wouldn’t step on the toes of American pharmaceutical companies that make their profit selling opiates to the pain population.

The reason this relationship between GW Pharmaceuticals and the U.S. government is oddly concerning is because obtaining permission to research marijuana for its potential benefits is something of a rare occurrence in this country. In fact, Rick Doblin, executive director for the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies, says it took his organization three years to receive approval from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to begin researching the healing powers of marijuana on veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The study, however, was eventually foiled by the feds who claimed their farm at the University of Mississippi was experiencing a shortage of marijuana, followed by the University of Arizona’s decision to terminate Dr. Sue Sisley, the project’s lead researcher.

Interestingly, GW Pharmaceutical’s drug Sativex, which is nothing more than extracted marijuana compounds — THC and CBD — is expected to go before federal regulators for final approval as early as 2015, which could give way to a truly Americanized version of medical marijuana that can be prescribed legally in every state and ultimately, controlled like a bad dog.

However, in spite of some wishful thinking, the approval of Sativex and Epidiolex will not in any way force the Drug Enforcement Administration to downgrade marijuana’s Schedule I status. The agency simply plans to slap these medications with a Schedule II or III classification once they receive approval from the FDA.

With the nation already seeing efforts by the federal government to capitalize on prescription cannabis without having to actually legalize marijuana, it stands to reason that the only conceivable way prohibition can be brought down within the next ten years is if the alcohol and tobacco companies march into the nation’s capital to get it done — which is not likely to happen.

Meanwhile, although there is no denying the inevitability of the monster that is to become Big Marijuana, the concept still has a long way to go before it has enough influence to sway America’s recreational substance market.

“Big Marijuana isn’t turning the gears like Big Oil, certainly not at this point, but as the industry grows both financially and politically, it will no doubt attract more people with governmental experience to till its fields,” said Michael Correia, a lobbyist with the National Cannabis Industry Association. “I think you will see more money available to be pulling people like me.”

Perhaps this power struggle is why some financial analysts believe that Big Tobacco is poised to become the “Budweiser of marijuana” once the federal government repeals prohibition. Last year, Gerry Sullivan, a portfolio manager for USA Mutuals’ Barrier Fund, formerly known as the Vice Fund, told Reuters that “sin is evolving,” which puts investors in a position to profit from potential addictions like e-cigarettes, coffee and legal weed. When asked who will take the cannabis industry national, Sullivan said that he will continue to invest strongly in tobacco companies, like the Altria Group, Inc., because even though they all deny it, he is confident these companies have pot products ready to launch once Uncle Sam changes his position on marijuana.

Despite letters published earlier this summer in the Milbank Quarterly indicating that Philip Morris was working with the United States Department of Justice in 1969 to conduct marijuana research, the tobacco industry claims it has no interest in the business of selling marijuana.

“Our companies have no plans to sell marijuana-based products,” said David Sylvia, a spokesperson for Philip Morris, during an interview with The Chicago-Tribune. “We don’t do anything related to marijuana at all.”

The idea of keeping the tobacco companies out of the national cannabis market once it’s established is a dream the marijuana industry hopes will come true. Most of the nation’s resident ganjapreneurs believe that in order to establish and maintain high standards and integrity within the marketplace, it’s crucial to build Big Marijuana from the ground up rather than rely on potentially corrupt structures like the tobacco companies to give it momentum. Unfortunately, the cannabis industry may not have any choice but to join tobacco’s controversy and cancer circus if negotiations to repeal federal prohibition are already underway behind a super secret door in the White House.

It’s safer to bet that marijuana will continue down the experimental road to legalization on a state-by-state basis for the next several years, perhaps even well into the next decade, but that’s not to say that any of the ideas presented above or any other combination of possibilities might not swoop in and change the game altogether. One thing is certain, with analysts predicting that federal legalization would result in approximately $9 billion per year in tax revenue, it doesn’t take a drug policy expert to see that a driving force greater than public health concerns are what’s standing in the way of prohibition’s end.

When do you think the federal government will legalize cannabis? Share your predictions in the comments.

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