Former Senator Tom Daschle writes for the Hill this week…

America’s next president will face an unprecedented array of challenges, chief among them an economy in ruins and an ugly social divide.

Having served in government for nearly three decades, including as Senate majority leader, I know that there’s no silver bullet that can magically solve all of these problems. 

However, I’ve also learned that progress comes from unexpected places and that states often see the future before the federal government. 

Legalizing cannabis — as 40 states have already done for either medical or recreational purposes— can’t cure all that ails America. Still, for the next president, it can help drive progress on multiple critical issues.

First, legal cannabis will help create new businesses and new jobs and generate additional tax revenues. It’s already a $16 billion-dollar market where it is legal, with the total market worth an estimated $75 billion. We’re well on the path to de facto legalization on a state level; in fact, many states deemed access to cannabis to be an essential service at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The next president can take us the rest of the way. 

Second, criminalizing cannabis has created more social ills than it has cured. Without access to mainstream banking, the thriving illicit cannabis market is more susceptible to organized crime and poses a serious threat to public safety. America ended Prohibition because it simply didn’t work, and it is clear that the current criminalization of cannabis at the federal level doesn’t work either.

Third, the war on drugs (however well intentioned) has destroyed more lives than it has saved. Local law enforcement has been transformed into a paramilitary force focused on arresting low-level users, with overwhelming racial disparity in possession arrests skewed toward people of color. Incarceration for nonviolent drug crimes is often unjust. It creates long-term consequences throughout that person’s lifetime, namely the obvious challenge of getting a job and an average reduction of wage growth by about 30 percent for those who can find work. Nationally, police dedicate nearly $4 billion annually to enforce cannabis possession laws. Can we honestly say the staggering human and economic costs are worth it? 

Lastly, cannabis offers potential that legalization can help explore. While we have a handful of Food and Drug Administration-approved medications derived from cannabis, anecdotal evidence is giving way to clinical data illustrating promise in a variety of therapeutic areas. This is, of course, in addition to mounting evidence that cannabis has reduced opioid use and harm from opioid use.

For the next president, it’s time to legalize cannabis.


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