No kidding: comedians and cannabis companies push for legalization of pot

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Federal legalization has advanced somewhat but still faces strong headwinds on Capitol Hill. The “Cannabis in Common” initiative launched on Tuesday aims to change that.

A website makes it easier for supporters to email or call their representatives in Congress and lobby for marijuana to be legal. State-licensed jar companies also plan to email their customers, display posters in stores, add information to their apps, and encourage consumers to get involved.

“Cannabis legalization has been overdue for a long time, and if we make enough noise we can make it happen,” said actor Seth Rogen, co-founder of a cannabis company and enthusiastic drug user, in a launch video. Actress Sarah Silverman voices another lively promo.

Eighteen states and Washington, DC, have legalized the recreational use of marijuana by adults and a measure approved by voters in a 19th state, South Dakota, is the subject of a court challenge. More than two-thirds of states allow medical marijuana.

But pot remains illegal under federal law to own, use, or sell, so many banks are avoiding the cannabis industry’s money, fearing it could expose them to federal legal trouble.

This conflict has excluded many legal producers and sellers from day-to-day financial services such as opening bank accounts or obtaining credit cards. It has also forced many businesses to operate only in cash, making them ideal targets for crime.

Pro-legalization groups have mounted state and federal campaigns for years, and advocates are divided over “Common Cannabis,” which is not focused on any particular law. Organizers say it is breaking new ground by widely involving key industry players and engaging their customers.

“We just think there is a larger, untapped group of individuals that we would like to see weigh in,” said Steve Hawkins, CEO of the US Cannabis Council, an industry-led coalition running the campaign with HeadCount, a group voter registration. The council declined to disclose the cost.

While cannabis companies have lobbied individually, this new effort “strikes at all the peccadilloes that every interest in weed brings to the table” in the hope of moving beyond the patchwork of state law, said Jeremy Unruh, senior vice president of PharmCann Inc., which has dispensaries in six states.

More than two dozen companies have signed on, including vaping brand Pax and publicly traded companies such as Canopy Growth, Curaleaf Holdings and Cronos Group.

Some non-profit pro-legalization groups are joining the “Cannabis in Common” initiative. But others are clear.

The Drug Policy Alliance sees the campaign as too corporate and not dedicated enough to erasing past convictions for marijuana and helping the communities and people who bore the brunt of the cannabis arrests.

“For us, it’s not just about getting federal legalization at the finish line,” says Maritza Perez of the alliance, which brought together the nonprofit Marijuana Justice Coalition in 2018 to push for the legalization associated with other reforms. “We have a very specific constituency that we are fighting for, and these are people who have been affected by prohibition.”

NORML, one of the oldest legalization groups in the country, is not participating in the new campaign and is focusing on specific congressional proposals to make marijuana legal at the federal level, political director Justin Strekal said.

A proposal to decriminalize and tax marijuana, strike down federal marijuana convictions and redirect marijuana tax money to communities besieged by the “war on drugs” was passed by the House in the year last. The measure was reintroduced at this year’s new Congress and was recently re-adopted by a key committee.

President Joe Biden has said he supports the decriminalization of marijuana and the removal of convictions for cannabis use, but he has not embraced federal legalization of drugs.

A Gallup poll released last week found that 68% of Americans supported legalization, including 83% of Democrats, 71% of Independents and 50% of Republicans. The survey of 823 adults had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Referring to such polls, the new campaign presents legalization as an issue that transcends political divides and has new potential within the Democratic-led Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D.-NY) in July became the first House Leader to support the legalization of marijuana, pledging to “make it a priority in the Senate,” where meaning Cory Booker of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon drafted legislation.

And legalization advocates are hoping to have a champion in Vice President Kamala Harris, who said ahead of her election that legalizing pot at the federal level is the “smart thing to do.”

But opponents of legalization note that it’s not clear all Senate Democrats would vote to legalize marijuana, let alone find enough Republican supporters to avoid filibuster. Congress is also busy with massive social services and climate change legislation ahead of next year’s midterm elections.


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