Letters + Opinion » The Week in Weed

Death, Taxes and McConnell's Obstruction

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In case you thought the U.S. House of Representatives couldn't impeach and chew gum at the same time, the House made history last week and it had nothing to do with all those quids and quos rolling out in the House Intelligence Committee hearings.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 24-10, with two Republicans joining the majority, on Nov. 20 to advance a bill removing cannabis from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, becoming the first congressional committee to approve legislation to put an end to federal prohibition. But the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment (MORE) Act would do much more than that. While allowing states to set their own cannabis policies, the bill would provide incentives for states to clear the criminal records of people convicted of low-level cannabis offenses and impose a 5 percent tax on cannabis products to fund job training and legal assistance programs for "those hardest hit by the war on drugs," particularly communities of color.

The legislation goes much further than the STATES Act, which was introduced earlier this year to much fanfare and would simply end federal prohibition and leave individual states to set their own cannabis laws. And while some fear the MORE Act is too progressive — attempting to move the country too far, too quickly — it seems poised to pass the full Democrat-controlled House.

But hold your applause. The bill is likely dead on arrival in the Senate, destined to land in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's graveyard. On the plus side, it will have plenty of company there, joining the likes of the For the People Act, the Equality Act, the American Dream and Promise Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, the Climate Action Now Act, the Raise the Wage Act, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act and the Dream and Promise Act, bills that aimed to do everything from create gender pay equity, prevent LGBTQ discrimination and expand background checks for gun purchases. And mind you, it's not just that the Senate hasn't passed these bills or that they've stalled in committee — they haven't even made it to a hearing.

And that's all due to McConnell, who's simply refused to let his colleagues take up any of them. It seems incredibly unlikely the MORE Act will fare any better. The Kentucky Republican has a long history of interdicting weed legislation — with the notable exception of last year's Farm Bill, which legalized hemp and CBD products and promised an economic boom for the Bluegrass State as tobacco demand continues to wane. In fact, McConnell has said plainly he has "no plans to endorse the legalization of marijuana."

So expect the MORE Act to potentially pass the House with much fanfare before dying a quiet death in the Senate, and remember all this in 2020 amid what will certainly be a steady chorus of lies about do-nothing House Democrats.

Like or hate them, House Democrats have been passing bills on issues they campaigned on, including ending the failed policy of federal cannabis prohibition.

If you're one of the many producers or consumers out there lamenting the price of legal cannabis, we've got some bad news: In the immortal words of Marlo Stanfield, the price of the brick is going up.

The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration announced Nov. 21 that it is again raising taxes on the industry, which Forbes warns will "further exacerbate price point discrepancies between the compliant and non-compliant markets." Specifically, the state is increasing its required mark-up rate on cannabis business transactions, demanding that retailers sell products for 80 percent more than they purchase them for, rather than the existing 60-percent markup, which will increase costs for consumers by about 12.5 percent. Meanwhile, the state will also bump cultivation tax rates from $9.25 to $9.65 per ounce of dried flower.

Josh Drayton, a spokesperson for the California Cannabis Industry Association, told the New York Times he expected the changes would result in consumers paying $5 to $10 more per eighth-ounce of cannabis purchased at dispensaries.

Thadeus Greenson is the Journal's news editor. He prefers he/him pronouns and can be reached at 442-1400, extension 321, or thad@northcoastjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.

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