“American voters are ready to end the war on marijuana—but their options shouldn’t be governed by special interests that can’t do the hard work of ensuring all stakeholders have a voice at the table.”
By Missouri Rep. Ron Hicks (R) and Oklahoma Rep. Scott Fetgatter (R)
The fundamental problem with the marijuana legalization efforts moving forward state by state in the United States today is that the federal government has not ended the federal prohibition on marijuana. This situation has been recently criticized by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who said this past June, “Once comprehensive, the Federal Government’s current approach is a half-in, half-out regime that simultaneously tolerates and forbids local use of marijuana. This contradictory and unstable state of affairs strains basic principles of federalism and conceals traps for the unwary.”
Both Missouri and Oklahoma have fallen into such traps, albeit for different reasons.
In Oklahoma, a citizen’s ballot initiative passed the nation’s most free-market medical marijuana program—but because of the lack of regulation and enforcement in the program, criminal gangs and cartels have come to Oklahoma, growing marijuana in nominally licensed operations and then shipping product out of state, primarily to the East Coast. This year in Oklahoma, we estimate a staggering four million pounds of marijuana will be grown—far more than the market demand from Oklahoma citizens.
In Missouri (and dozens of other states) a medical marijuana ballot initiative campaign funded by special interests put significant licensing restrictions in the Missouri Constitution—leading to immense public controversy, the appearance of corruption in the licensing process and legislative investigations and hundreds of lawsuits when over 1,800 applications were arbitrarily denied. In 2018, the Federal Bureau of Investigation put out a national bulletin warning of public corruption and bribery in states where licenses were restricted in this manner—and dozens of federal investigations into public corruption and bribery have indicated this situation is a persistent threat to the very legitimacy of our state governments.
Proud to work with my colleague Oklahoma State Rep. Scott Fetgatter to lead the way to a conservative, free market/equal opportunity marijuana legalization framework. My Cannabis Freedom Act centers expungement and restorative justice and I look forward to its passage #moleg https://t.co/BHAwW0RP7C
— Ron Hicks (@RNHCKS) March 3, 2022
Now, in 2022, adult-use (sometimes called recreational) marijuana campaigns are moving forward with ballot initiative campaigns in both states, and because these campaigns are not willing or capable of engaging all stakeholders on this issue and putting the interests of our citizens first, we are faced with the hard truth of Justice Thomas’s statement.
First, we call upon the federal government to act—only federal action can smooth the way to a nationally regulated system that protects opportunity and ends the illegal market as it exists today.
Second, while we’re waiting on Congress and the president to do their part, our state legislatures should do their part—on one hand, ensuring that criminal actors aren’t able to game state marijuana licensing to perpetuate illegal interstate commerce—and on the other hand, ensuring that opportunity is available to all who can demonstrate compliance with a reasonably regulated and enforced program.
It’s important to get this right. American voters are ready to end the war on marijuana—but their options shouldn’t be governed by special interests that can’t do the hard work of ensuring all stakeholders have a voice at the table. We can’t afford to create a crisis of governmental legitimacy through going too far in either direction.
That’s why, in consultation with policymakers and lawmakers in different states that have been trapped in this quagmire, we’re proposing sensible reforms in our state legislatures in 2022. Missouri and Oklahoma can get marijuana legalization right—and we can show the rest of the country that there is a pathway forward that makes sense for all Americans.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.