As I alluded to in part one of this series, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act contains a number of provisions and programs essential for the cannabis industry to thrive on a national scale. Additionally, the legislation includes funding and oversight for said programs. More information on those programs is forthcoming, but before addressing the framework, I feel it is necessary to touch upon the legislation’s foundation. First and foremost, the MORE Act removes cannabis from the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) list of controlled substances which, in and of itself, has the potential to benefit Kentucky citizens in a variety of ways.
At the top of the list of the MORE Act’s legalization benefits are those within the judicial system. Under the proposed new cannabis policy, manufacture, distribution, use, and possession of cannabis would cease to be a crime at the federal level. Furthermore, this change to current policy is retroactive, establishing a process for expungement of prior convictions as well as sentencing reviews for those currently incarcerated due to the unjust policy of prohibition.
If similar steps were taken at the state level, innumerable Kentuckians would see immediate benefits. In 2018, twenty percent of all drug-related arrests in the Bluegrass state were for simple marijuana possession. Expungement would open the door to increased opportunities - from housing to employment - for those previously excluded because of their arrest record. This would provide a path to prosperity for individuals from poor and minority communities who have disproportionately borne the brunt of penalties imposed by current prohibitionist policies. An added benefit would be lessening the strain on law enforcement, the courts, and corrections. For context, in 2018 there were more arrests in the United States for marijuana than for all violent crimes combined. By taking marijuana offenses off their plate, our nation’s systems can divert resources from adjudicating prohibition violations to prosecuting crimes with actual victims such as domestic violence, robbery and rape. With our judicial system already overwhelmed, its ability to focus on serious crime is critical both for the integrity of the system itself and for the safety of the citizens it is tasked with serving.
Descheduling cannabis as a controlled substance will also make it available for medical use. Notably, at the federal level, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) would be able to use cannabis in treatment programs. Marijuana has been shown to improve treatment outcomes for a variety of conditions, including PTSD and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Allowing the VA to incorporate cannabis into its treatments has the potential to improve the lives of countless veterans who have already sacrificed so much on our behalf. In Kentucky, medical marijuana has the potential to improve the lives of countless patients. For many like myself who suffer from chronic pain and mental illness, marijuana is an essential piece to our treatment puzzle. I have watched two sisters battle cancer, one unsuccessfully. For them, and patients like them, marijuana could have helped them combat the effects of cancer treatment by alleviating pain and stimulating their appetites. Finally, as ravaged as we have been by the opioid epidemic, medical marijuana has the potential to be a light at the end of the tunnel for a seemingly never-ending cascade of despair that has washed across our commonwealth. Studies have shown cannabis can be effective in treating pain, which could drastically reduce the number of opioid patients statewide. By having the liberty to choose an effective alternative to dangerous treatments, we can begin to heal our populace of the blight that the opioid epidemic has spread across Kentucky.
The economic benefits of legalization are considerable and wide ranging. One Kentucky industry that stands to benefit most is agri-business. Kentucky has long been known for its marijuana production, in spite of the plant’s senseless prohibition. In 2018, the DEA confiscated more marijuana plants per capita from Kentucky than any other state. It’s safe to say Kentuckians are going to grow cannabis whether the legislature likes it or not. Truth be told, in a state best known for bourbon, this shouldn’t come as a shock. It is time we embraced the cannabis industry as a means of economic revitalization, particularly in Appalachia, where the lion’s share of illicit marijuana is grown.
The retail industry would also benefit a great deal from cannabis legalization, for obvious reasons. The manufacturing and construction sectors stand to benefit as well, as new products need to get to market and new stores are needed to stock them. The cannabis industry is tailor made to foster a boom in small business growth. From growing operations and processing facilities to retail shops, tourism and entertainment attractions, there is plenty of potential economic growth to reach every corner of the state.
Unfortunately, it is no guarantee the MORE Act will become law. While legalization is overwhelmingly supported by the people, partisan obstructionism leaves its fate in question. It is important that we continue to inform our elected officials of our will. Should the bill become law, it would leave the door open for countless opportunities to revitalize our state and improve the lives of its residents. It is our responsibility to ensure Kentucky crosses the threshold to seize those opportunities. While the MORE Act legalizes marijuana at the federal level, it will be left to individual states to regulate as they see fit, much like alcohol and tobacco. It is imperative we prepare to face opposition at the state and local level. Our beautiful state has been ranked at or near the bottom in everything from our economy to education to incarceration rates for long enough. Cannabis legalization, while not a miracle cure, could and should be a vital mechanism for ensuring Kentucky’s future is a prosperous one. Kentucky needs cannabis. Kentuckians are ready for cannabis. It’s high time we Kentuckians do something about it.