In October, a Gallup poll found, for the first time, majority support among Republicans for legalizing marijuana. Such majority support had already existed among Democrats and independents. Then, this month, huge majorities of delegates at the Republican Party of Texas state convention approved party platform planks calling for decriminalizing marijuana possession; moving marijuana from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 of the United States government’s Controlled Substances Act; allowing the cultivation, manufacture, and sale of hemp and hemp products; and expanding the state’s low-THC cannabis oil medical program. And, this week, voters approved a medical marijuana ballot measure in Oklahoma, another “conservative” state, making it the 30th state to legalize medical marijuana.
The time seems to be ripe for Democrats in the US Congress to reach out for Republican support in ending the US government’s marijuana prohibition. Yet, this week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) instead chose to introduce the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act (S 3174), a bill that seeks to remove much of the United States government’s marijuana prohibition and includes a provision that will likely ensure that the bill receives support from few to no Republicans.
The provision directs that a portion of US taxes generated each year from the marijuana industry be placed in a newly created “Marijuana Opportunity Trust Fund” from which the money will be distributed via Small Business Administration loans to marijuana companies owned and controlled by women and “socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.” Looking at US statutes subsection 15 USC 637(d)(3)(C) that explains the meaning of “socially and economically disadvantaged individuals” one finds out that the group is presumed to include “Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Asian Pacific Americans, and other minorities.”
In short, included in Schumer’s bill is a special race-and-sex-based subsidy for marijuana businesses. This provides clear reason for Republican senators — many of whom already are wary of supporting a significant marijuana prohibition roll-back — to not support the bill. First, race-and-sex-based government preferences tend not to be popular among Republican voters and politicians. Second, the provision converts the bill from legislation that just takes the small government step of eliminating marijuana-related legal restraints to legislation taking the big government approach of subsidizing marijuana businesses. A Republican Senator who cosponsors or votes for the bill would, in general, be endorsing a new government subsidy and, in particular, be helping fund marijuana businesses — something much different than merely tolerating their existence.