When marijuana is federally legalized, it should be normalized in global commerce with U.S. trade representatives advocating for domestic cannabis business interests, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) said on Wednesday.
While that hasn’t necessarily been addressed in legalization legislation that he’s working on with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), the chairman said one in four jobs “revolves around international trade” and he thinks the U.S. should be looking ahead to “the days when cannabis becomes part of ongoing discussions that are conducted by trade officials.”
Wyden made the comments at an event organized by the National Cannabis Roundtable (NCR) and Leafly. Former U.S. Heath and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who now serves as an honorary co-chair of NRC, also attended the virtual briefing, which focused on job opportunities in the marijuana industry.
Advocates and stakeholders have been closely following Wyden as he and his colleagues prepare to introduce a bill to end federal cannabis prohibition. The senator didn’t quite reveal new details about the forthcoming proposal, but he did reiterate the three policy “pillars” it will aim to address.
“The first thing we’ve got to do is make sure that legalizing cannabis establishes an anti-racism policy,” he said. “Cannabis criminalization, the failed war on drugs, disproportionately harmed communities of color—black and Hispanic Americans. And that harm—for Senator Schumer, Senator Booker and myself—really must be recognized.”
The next priority is addressing the “public health impacts of cannabis,” Wyden said. That means lifting barriers to research to explore the plant’s therapeutic potential.
“Third, of course, is the staggering economic impact of legal cannabis,” he said. He referenced an annual report from Leafly that analyzes job creation in the marijuana sector and the potential for further expansion if federal prohibition is ended.
With respect to the economics of legalization, Wyden said he’s especially interested in reforming a portion of the tax code known as 280E, which prevents state-legal cannabis businesses from claiming tax deductions and credits that are available to other industries.
“I think 280E needs to go, and I am determined to get that done,” he said. “I made it clear to majority leadership and Senator Booker that that’ll be a special cause of mine.”
“This is really the dark ages in terms of dragging progressive, successful, innovative cannabis businesses back year after year after year,” he said, “and it also affects the lack access to banking services.”
Asked when the highly anticipated legalization bill will be revealed, Wyden gave the same answer that Schumer tends to give: “very soon.” He added that the trio has “made a lot of headway” and they’ve “been reaching out to people” to advise on the measure.
Schumer has similarly said that the proposal they’re working on will “ensure restorative justice, public health and implement responsible taxes and regulations.” He also made a point in March to say that it will specifically seek to restrict the ability of large alcohol and tobacco companies to overtake the industry.
Instead, it will prioritize small businesses, particularly those owned by people from communities most impacted by prohibition, and focus on “justice, justice, justice—as well as freedom,” he said.
The majority leader also urged voters to reach out to their congressional representatives and tell them that “this is long overdue.”
On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduced his legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the chamber last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.