Washington-Oregon Cannabis Trade Bill

Despite all the economic benefits and billions of dollars in annual sales and tax revenue that the American cannabis industry has created even if the industry can only legally operate in 21 states, there’s still a number of federal laws surrounding cannabis that impact the legal industry in a multitude of disadvantageous ways. These laws can partially be traced back to the fact that cannabis is considered a Schedule I drug, which means that naturally grown cannabis is “a chemical that is defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” according to the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Controlled Substances List. This federal status exists in direct contrast to the nearly 40 states that have legalized cannabis for medical use.

If the DEA’s Controlled Substances List didn’t already seem nonsensical enough, the DEA legitimately lists fentanyl, an insanely dangerous drug responsible for over 67,000 overdose deaths in 2021, as a Schedule II drug compared to cannabis’ Schedule I status. For further comparisons, the other drugs listed in the Schedule II category include popular party drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine and prescribable study drugs also used for partying such as Adderall and Ritalin.

Because of cannabis’ heavily illegal federal status, one such prohibited activity that may happen frequently but is still against federal law is the interstate possession of cannabis, or crossing state lines with cannabis products that you purchased in the state you’re leaving from. Even if this crime is essentially victimless, state lines are federally mandated and cannabis is on the Controlled Substances list, meaning that a federal offense is technically being committed when this occurs.

Even if you were to travel from Las Vegas where cannabis is recreationally legal to Los Angeles where cannabis is also recreationally legal, a federal offense would be occurring because of the crossing of state lines from Nevada to California. How truthfully this measure is enforced is dependent upon many factors, but transporting any amount of cannabis from one recreationally legal state to another is still considered a federal offense regardless of individual state legality or even whether or not the cannabis consumer is a medical patient.

Although large-scale federal law reforms for cannabis are still years away and likely won’t happen under the Biden administration, there are certain pairs of neighboring states with legal cannabis that are banding together economically for whenever the needle does eventually move on federal cannabis reform and interstate sales are allowed. One such interstate partnership being established is through a trade bill with the first and fourth states to recreationally legalize cannabis.

Being written in the Washington Legislature, House Bill 1159 is “an act relating to interstate cannabis agreements.” What the bill would create between the states of Oregon and Washington is an interstate trade model and route that would allow for the free trade of cannabis products between Oregon and Washington. HB 1159 has already received significant support in the current Legislature session, as the bill has passed a committee vote in the House Committee on Regulated Substances and Gaming.

While the bill is indeed groundbreaking for cannabis legislation in America, the passing and implementation of this particular bill is heavily contingent upon another body of government.

You may be wondering how Washington and Oregon, which both have recreational cannabis, are implementing a policy that so very directly goes against federal law regarding Controlled Substances and interstate cannabis sales. The truthful answer is that… they aren’t subverting the federal government. The aforementioned contingency of the bill is entirely dependent on the federal government amending these restricting laws and allowing for interstate cannabis sales.

“This act takes effect on the earlier of the date on which,” the bill reads, “Federal law is amended to allow for the interstate transfer of cannabis between authorized cannabis-related businesses; or The United States Department of Justice issues an opinion or memorandum allowing or tolerating the interstate transfer of cannabis between authorized cannabis-related businesses.”

With a bill like this with the economic and financial possibilities that it possesses, it’s refreshing to see that states are legislatively preparing for the inevitable federal legalization of cannabis. When interstate commerce is finally permitted for the cannabis industry, it will likely change entire dispensary shelves. While dispensaries will likely still focus on local brands, the stores may hypothetically be able to purchase and sell notable and award-winning products from across the country or at least from neighboring legal states.

To the legislators’ credit, there was a clause added to directly notify cannabis cultivators and retailers of when the laws eventually change that “all licensed cannabis producers, processors, retailers, researchers, and transporters and to persons who have a pending application for such a license, and inform all such licensees and persons of how they may continue to be notified of activities related to interstate cannabis agreements as well as changes and proposed changes to laws and rules related.”

Still, it’s unfortunate that the signing of this otherwise historic piece of legislation is completely dependent on a federal government that has continuously shown absolutely no interest or very little interest at best in federally legalizing cannabis. If the near future of attempts at federal legalization go similar to the stalled efforts of the SAFE Banking Act and The MORE Act, then it’ll be several more years until HB 1159 would be passed.

Aaron Pelley

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