Monday, April 15, 2024

Federal Marijuana Legalization Could Mimic End Of Alcohol Prohibition

 Congressional Democrats are working this year to get something on the books. It might not be as far-reaching as many hope, but legal weed will get there eventually.

Federal marijuana legalization is inevitable in the United States, but it’s likely to involve small steps to get there. Right now, Senate Democrats are gearing up to push a comprehensive marijuana reform bill in the coming weeks designed to end almost 90 years of federal cannabis prohibition.

However, President Joe Biden isn’t yet on board with the concept of taking cannabis reform this far. Instead, he would prefer to decriminalize the herb nationwide and expunge criminal records. But he’s far too busy to do any of that right now, according to Vice President Kamala Harris. So it’s anyone’s guess how long it’s going to take for the nation to see significant change.

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When the time finally comes, however, rest assured the moves will be incremental at best. Looking back on the demise of alcohol prohibition decades ago, we can see that it, too, started slow before becoming the mega industry it is today. In fact, before the total repeal of national alcohol prohibition, federal lawmakers fought to legalize only specific alcoholic beverages. The same toe-in-the-water politics that we often see on Capitol Hill concerning cannabis is nothing new. 

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Alcohol Prohibition brought about more socioeconomic trouble for the U.S. than what prohibitionists had promised. They said life would get better without booze. Instead, the nation experienced higher crime, more poverty, and the average American’s quality of life suffered greatly. Then came the Great Depression, and the country sank into a downward spiral that many thought would never end.

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Enough was enough; governmental leaders began searching for ways to stimulate the economy and end some of the gnarliest unemployment rates in history. It made sense that legalizing alcohol was the right move. But they didn’t go all-in at first.

In April 1933, President Roosevelt, who ran his campaign on the promise of ending alcohol prohibition, took the first step toward remedying the situation. He asked Congress to legalize alcoholic beverages with a low alcohol content.

“I recommend to the Congress the passage of legislation for the immediate modification of the Volstead Act, in order to legalize the manufacture and sale of beer and other beverages of such alcoholic content as is permissible under the Constitution; and to provide through such manufacture and sale, by substantial taxes, a proper and much-needed revenue for the Government. I deem action at this time to be of the highest importance.” 

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Legalizing booze with a low ABV, Roosevelt believed, would reduce unemployment and provide the nation with much-needed tax revenue. It wasn’t long (the next day, in fact) before lawmakers introduced the Cullen-Harrison Act, which called for the legalization of beverages containing 3.2% alcohol. It was swiftly moved through both chambers of Congress without issue. In less than 10 days, the bill had passed the House and Senate, and Roosevelt signed it into law. It wasn’t the end of prohibition like many had hoped, but it was a start.

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Although only 21 states and the District of Columbia passed similar laws, tens of thousands of jobs were created. Business sectors from across the board — farmers, glassmakers, etc. — began to experience a boost. It was a big win for the nation. The anniversary of this reform is now known as National Beer Day. 

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By December 1933, legal alcohol was starting to resurrect a dead land formerly known as the United States, so lawmakers voted to repeal prohibition altogether. Still, many states remained dry for decades. It wasn’t until the 1960s when the last of the prohibition states finally ended this madness. 

Fast forward to present times, and the nation has already made similar moves with respect to cannabis. Congress legalized industrial hemp production a few years ago, allowing the production of hemp with no more than .0.3% THC. It certainly didn’t provide the economic boon that many expected, but it was a start.

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Last year, the nation got slammed by a pandemic, which drove the economy into the ground. Since then, state lawmakers have been scrambling to create new revenue streams. Marijuana legalization is always a hot topic of discussion. In fact, New York’s economic troubles are a large part of why it just legalized for adult use. As it stands, 16 states have pot laws on the books that allow the production and sale of marijuana for adults 21 and older. It’s just taking the federal government longer to catch up.

The good news is that Congressional Democrats are working this year to get something on the books. It might not be as far-reaching as many hope, but legal weed will get there eventually. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says he wants to present his case to President Biden, who is focused on an infrastructure plan to boost the economy. Let’s hope Biden can see, like Roosevelt did, the benefits of a taxed and regulated market.


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