The United States is in the midst of a transformation in its approach to cannabis. With 38 states After medical cannabis was legalized and 23 were allowed for recreational use by adults, the era of cannabis prohibition is fading into history. However, this development was not without challenges.
The illegal cannabis market continues to thrive, posing risks to public safety and undermining the goals of legal cannabis programs. As we stand on the cusp of federal cannabis reform, it is essential to develop a comprehensive strategy to address this persistent problem.
The illegal cannabis market in its current form is divided into two different sectors: the illegal market and the gray market. The illicit market encompasses all aspects of the cannabis supply chain that fall outside the boundaries of legality and regulation. On the other hand, the gray market is unregulated cannabis activities as part of decriminalization or legal cannabis markets. While both sectors are of concern, it is the large-scale organized crime operations in the illicit market that require immediate attention.
To effectively combat the illegal cannabis market, we (as well as federal lawmakers) must address its causes. These causes are primarily of two natures: economic factors and public policy or the lack thereof. Federal inaction on cannabis reform has resulted in a disjointed and inconsistent landscape of cannabis laws across the country, leaving gaps for illegal operators to exploit.
Current signals from the Biden administration show that the White House is ready to sit down at the table on federal cannabis reform. Now is the time for Congress to put forward sensible, bipartisan proposals that would allow states to determine legality as they see fit. Such a reform could usher in a new framework for regulatory standards and even provide a unique opportunity to directly address the illicit market.
In this context, the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation worked with experts to present a series of data-driven policy recommendations aimed at dismantling the illicit cannabis market within a reformed federal framework.
1. Interoperable product traceability: Establishing a central track and trace system or national inventory control mechanism is essential to monitor legal movements of cannabis products within and across state borders. This standardized system can help law enforcement identify supply chain reversals and diversions and prevent illegal cannabis from entering states with prohibition laws.
2. Use alternative data sources: In addition to the national track and trace system, authorities should use alternative data sources to detect illegal activities outside legal markets. These sources could include ecological indicators of illicit cultivation areas, cannabis-related human trafficking cases, and insights from national consumer surveys identifying illicit consumer demand.
3. Introduce cannabis tax stamps: Implement a cannabis tax stamp system to distinguish legal from illegal products. These stamps can serve as proof of tax payment and help reduce tax evasion and supply chain diversion and reversal.
4. Federal guidelines for uniform regulations: The federal government should establish minimum standards for cannabis regulations related to public health and safety, including testing, packaging, labeling, manufacturing and advertising. These standards should apply to all states with cannabis programs.
5. Create a Federal Cannabis Task Force: Form a national task force of policymakers, regulators, equity and justice advocates, law enforcement, public health experts, and industry representatives. This task force should focus on policy development and provide resources for important cannabis-related research.
6. Ongoing Federal Guidance: Federal agencies such as the Department of Justice and the National Office of Drug Control Policy should provide local and state law enforcement with regular and up-to-date guidance on enforcement priorities related to the illicit cannabis market and related illegal activities.
7. Allocate federal funds: To effectively implement these recommendations, additional federal funding would be required. A portion of federal cannabis tax revenue should be used for comprehensive enforcement efforts against the illegal market.
In conclusion, as we move into a new era of federal cannabis reform, the ongoing illicit cannabis market must be addressed with a multi-pronged strategy. By adopting these policy recommendations, we can create a unified approach that combines regulation, enforcement and financing to systematically disrupt the illicit cannabis trade. It is time to leave the era of prohibition behind and usher in a new era of responsible and legal cannabis consumption in the United States.