May 16, 2020
COVID-19 Pandemic May Lead The Federal Government To Legalize Marijuana, Financial Writer Suggests

The COVID-19 pandemic may be the catalyst that spurs the federal government to legalize marijuana nationally, financial writer David Jagielski predicts. Writing in The Motley Fool, Jagielski posits that the need for accelerated economic recovery may push lawmakers to legalize the plant.

Though multiple states have legalized marijuana for recreational or medical use, the plant remains illegal as a matter of federal law. That means that state marijuana programs are effectively operating illegally. Officially, that means that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) could theoretically shut down every marijuana dispensary in every state, and start arresting employees and customers on a moment's notice. Unofficially, however, the Obama administration took a "hands-off" approach to state-level marijuana programs, as long as certain conditions (such as steps being taken to keep the product out of the hands of children) were met. The Trump administration has continued that policy.

Jagielski, however, believes that the time is coming for the federal government to go the way of Canada and Uruguay and fully legalize pot on a national level.

The reason, he says, is the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, Jagielski notes that the government is eager to see a quick and robust recovery from the economic crisis wrought by the pandemic. And legalizing cannabis may be one way to make that happen.

For example, Jagielski points out that millions of Americans are out of work, with more likely to come. What's more, some of those jobs will be lost forever, even after the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.

By legalizing marijuana federally, the door will be open to creating jobs in the new industry.

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - JANUARY 02: A processor (R) fills orders for bud tenders (L) who sell the product at MedMen, one of the two Los Angeles area pot shops that began selling marijuana for recreational use under the new California marijuana law today, on January 2, 2018 in West Hollywood, California. Los Angeles and other nearby cities outside of West Hollywood have not finalized their local permitting rules so licenses to businesses in those jurisdictions are yet to be granted. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Getty Images | David McNew

Charlie Bachtell, CEO of Chicago-based cannabis company Cresco Labs, says that when it comes to post-pandemic job creation, "cannabis has to be part of that discussion."

Further, the legal pot market in the U.S. was valued at $10.3 billion in 2018, and could be worth as much as $29.7 billion by 20205, according to New Frontier Data's estimates.

Already lawmakers are looking at marijuana reform as a tool for economic recovery. For example, the House of Representatives this week passed the SAFE Banking Act, which allows for the cannabis industry to safely put its money in bank accounts. Whether or not that bill will pass the Senate is uncertain, however.

Meanwhile, cannabis reform seems to be a largely Democratic issue at this point, as evidenced by the fact that the SAFE Banking Act originated, and passed, in the Democrat-controlled House, and faces an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled Senate. However, Jagielski notes that, with economic recovery likely to be the driving legislative agenda for the next few months or years, Republicans -- traditionally hesitant to move forward on cannabis reform -- may be looking toward marijuana legalization as a tool for that hoped-for recovery.