Cannabis could become legal across the US, following '420' bill

There is much talk at the minute about whether particular US states will fade from red to blue or blue to red. However, a number of states have also turned green. Cannabis is now legal in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

However, they are still in the minority as the lion share of US states resists the green tide and continues to prosecute for cannabis-related activities from dealing to possession. The country spends $50 billion per year in the war on drugs but only ever captures around 10 per cent of illegal narcotics before they are consumed.

With the majority of Americans supporting legalisation and $3.6 billion spent per year on enforcing cannabis laws according to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), Senator Ron Wyden has created a radical new bill named S.420.

Cannabis Credit: Getty

Its name hasn’t gone unnoticed to the legalise movement as April 20th is when cannabis users gather all over the world to both celebrate and smoke the plant. Derived from 4:20 pm - a time designated for the same activity - this, in turn, is often thought to originate from a Californian police code.

While untrue, it did originate in California but was when a group of cannabis-positive students, specifically Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz and Mark Gravich, would meet next to a statue of Louis Pasteur at San Rafael High School.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden’s S.420 is slightly less whimsical but proposes the legalisation of cannabis at federal level. “S. 420 may get some laughs,” Wyden explained in a statement, “but what matters most is that it will get people talking about the serious need to end failed prohibition.”

The proposed bill also comes with a suggested system of taxation and regulation - creating a nationwide system of cannabis commerce. “The federal prohibition of marijuana is wrong, plain and simple. Too many lives have been wasted, and too many economic opportunities have been missed,” Wyden said in a press release. “It’s time Congress make the changes Oregonians and Americans across the country are demanding.”

With Colorado estimated to have surpassed $1 billion in sales in a one-year period, the legal cannabis industry in the US is expected to soon hit the $10 billion mark. As legalisation advocates are keen to point out, these sales are flooding the government with tax dollars.

Interestingly, it’s not the first time that cannabis-related legislation has had the pertinent number attached. In fact, last month fellow Oregonian Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), filed a congressional bill which aimed to decriminalise cannabis. In the same month, Minnesota lawmakers proposed a very similar bill called. They were called H.R. 420 and HF 420 respectively.

Senator Ron Wyden Credit: Getty

However, the rabbit hole goes deeper. In 2017, a Rhode Island senator proposed a bill called S 420 which would legalise cannabis. Going further back, the first House vote on an amendment to prevent the Department of Justice from exercising jurisdiction over state medical cannabis laws was via 2003's Roll Call 420. In the same year, the first Californian statewide bill for the legalisation of medical cannabis was designated as SB 420.

It has been suggested this is a sign that cannabis culture permeates politics itself, the elder statesmen of DC perhaps being a little more down with the kids than one might presume. Meanwhile, the number is so popular that the Colorado Department of Transportation had to replace a 420-mile marker sign with a “419.99” sign. The Idaho Department of Transportation had the same problem but went with “419.9” and in Minnesota’s Goodhue County, 420 St had to be reimagined as “42x St”.

While S.420 is only actually in regards to packaging and labelling, Wyden has also proposed S.421 which would see the drug removed from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The third and final instalment, S.422, would prevent legal cannabis sellers being hit by 280(E) - a federal provision which prevents them from being granted business tax kickbacks. Coincidently, the new House Democratic majority will meet to discuss cannabis businesses' lack of access to banks next week.

Cannabis Credit: Getty

“Hailing from the first state to decriminalise marijuana back in 1973, Senator Wyden has a unique and much-needed perspective that his colleagues in the nation’s upper chamber would be wise to follow,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal stated.“With 420 legislation pending in both chambers of Congress, the next logical step is for lawmakers to sit in a circle and finally hash out their differences.”

“Oregon has been and continues to be a leader in commonsense marijuana policies and the federal government must catch up,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer, who has filed House companion versions to complement Wyden's bills, explained in a press release. “The American people have elected the most pro-cannabis Congress in American history and significant pieces of legislation are being introduced. The House is doing its work and with the help of Senator Wyden’s leadership in the Senate, we will break through.”

Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Patty Murray (D-WA) have all backed Wyden’s bills however, only time will tell whether cannabis is legalised at federal level. Regardless of which side of the argument you stand on, it would make for a historic moment after more than a century of cannabis prohibition in the United States.