US congressional lawmakers introduced a bill with bipartisan support that would compel multiple federal agencies to study the impacts of state-level marijuana legalization.
The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY), and Reps. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) and Don Young (R-AK), would establish a 10 year partnership between the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor, and the attorney general’s office in order to collect and analyze data pertaining to the legalization of cannabis. The partners would look at the economic, health, criminal justice and workplace impacts of both medical and recreational marijuana legalization, with reports due to Congress every two years over the 10 year period.
“As more and more states legalize and regulate marijuana, we must take a thorough examination at how different laws and policies in different states have been implemented, what works, what doesn’t, and what can be replicated elsewhere,” Sen. Menendez said in a press statement. “Having this data at our fingertips and making it available to the public will help drive public policy decisions and dispel any misconceptions about marijuana legalization.”
The Marijuana Data Collection Act is broadly the same in purpose and scope as legislation introduced in 2018 by former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. It would instruct the NAS and the federal agencies to look into how cannabis is taxed in states with legal sales, what revenues it generates, and how those revenues are then used. Some of the key research areas regarding medical marijuana would be what conditions patients use the treatment for and its relationship to opioid uptake and overdoses, as well as on hospital admissions. Research into marijuana legalization’s impact on the workplace would largely focus on how many jobs have directly and indirectly been created through the measure. The criminal justice implications of state-level legal cannabis would look at the measure’s impact on marijuana arrest rates and court filings, impaired driving, as well as any changes in how money is spent enforcing cannabis laws.
“Congress and the American people need reliable facts on the impact of states’ legal marijuana programs,” Rep. Garcia said. “We need independent data on how these programs impact state budgets, the public health, and employment. This is especially important amid the pandemic, that’s been filled for many with isolation, depression and financial stress that has led to an alarming rise in opioid deaths—especially among communities of color.”
“By entrusting the National Academy of Sciences to objectively study state marijuana programs, we will have unbiased information to make decisions based in reality, not historical prejudices or preconceived ideas,” she added.
Justin Strekal, NORML’s political director, provided input on some of the Marijuana Data Collection Act’s provisions and said the measure would help to banish misconceptions concerning cannabis legalization and better inform policy on the issue.
“[The legislation] will ensure that federal discussions and policies specific to cannabis policy are based upon the best, most reliable, and recent evidence available moving forward. To be clear, this is not a marijuana reform bill, it is a data bill about what is happening around the country,” Strekal said. “No member of Congress can intellectually justify opposition to this legislation unless they are willing to deny the fact that the majority of American states are in defiance of the Schedule 1 criminalized status of cannabis.”
This is the second marijuana-related legislation jointly introduced by Sens. Menendez and Paul in the past month. The other would facilitate access to insurance coverage for state-legal marijuana businesses. Given marijuana’s prohibited status at the federal level, insurance companies are currently hesitant to offer services to legal cannabis operators for fear of federal reprisals.