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What’s Next For Marijuana Policy?
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What’s Next For Marijuana Policy?

Plus: Introducing a new religion-focused newsletter from The Dispatch.

Happy Friday! There’s probably a metaphor somewhere in the fact that the business of the State Department briefing paused momentarily on Thursday when spokesman Matthew Miller noticed a “rather large” cockroach behind one reporter’s head. “No insecticide or roach-icide in the briefing room,” he urged.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Supreme Court issued a 7-2 decision on Thursday upholding the mandatory repatriation tax—a one-time tax on unrealized gains for individual investors who own at least a ten percent share of a foreign company—included in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in the majority opinion that it is constitutional for Congress to tax income an entity has earned, even if that income was never given to its shareholders or other investors. Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Neil Gorsuch dissented, arguing that taxpayers must receive gains in order for those gains to be considered taxable income. The court released three other decisions on Thursday: one upholding the conviction of a woman who claimed the expert witness in her case was prejudicially expansive in his testimony; a Fourth Amendment case in which the court held that someone could claim prejudicial prosecution even if there was probable cause for another charge; and one that affirmed someone can still claim retaliatory arrest even if there was probable cause for arrest, in which the high court vacated a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision.
  • Outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is set to become the next secretary-general of NATO in October, after his only opponent, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, withdrew his candidacy for the position on Thursday. Rutte—who has the unanimous backing of NATO member countries after Hungary withdrew its objection this week—will replace former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in the position. Stoltenberg has occupied the role since 2014. 
  • Wildfires burned a total of 23,000 acres and killed at least two people in southern New Mexico this week. Thunderstorms in the region on Thursday were expected to help temper the blaze, but local authorities warned that the intense storms could lead to additional hazards as the fires continued to be uncontained. “Large hail, torrential rainfall, flash flooding, and damaging winds are possible from these storms,” the Albuquerque National Weather Service said Wednesday. “Extremely dangerous burn scar flooding has also impacted the Ruidoso area.”
  • A seven-member U.S. congressional delegation on Thursday met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi—who was elected to a third term as premier earlier this month—after meeting with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, the day prior. The bipartisan delegation—led by House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Republican Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas and which included former Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California—drew criticism from Chinese Communist Party officials for visiting the religious leader Beijing considers a Tibetan separatist. 
  • The Biden administration announced Thursday that it will prioritize the delivery of Patriot air defense missiles to Ukraine, above other countries that ordered the systems from the United States. The administration didn’t disclose which countries would now face delays but said the decision would have no effect on weapons deliveries to Israel or Taiwan. “The broader message here to Russia is clear,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Thursday. “If you think you’re going to be able to be able to outlast Ukraine, and if you think you’re going to be able to outlast those of us who are supporting Ukraine, you’re just flat-out wrong.”
  • The Manhattan District Attorney’s office on Thursday reportedly dismissed criminal trespassing charges brought against 30 Columbia University students who were arrested after breaking into and temporarily occupying an academic building during anti-Israel protests this spring. Manhattan prosecutors—led by district attorney Alvin Bragg, who successfully brought felony charges against former President Donald Trump—made the case in favor of dropping charges against the student activists who broke into the college’s Hamilton Hall, citing their lack of prior criminal record and pending discipline from the academic institution. 
  • Iconic Canadian actor Donald Sutherland passed away Thursday at the age of 88, his son, actor Kiefer Sutherland, announced. The elder Sutherland acted for seven decades, in films and TV series as diverse as M*A*S*H and The Hunger Games trilogy. “Never daunted by a role, good, bad or ugly,” his son wrote yesterday. “He loved what he did and did what he loved, and one can never ask for more than that. A life well lived.”

Introducing Dispatch Faith

There have been a lot of announcements from us here at Dispatch HQ in recent weeks, but we’re particularly excited about the news we’re revealing today: Dispatch Faith, a newsletter that will bring The Dispatch’s sober, analytical approach to the religious domain. Curated by managing editor Michael Reneau, Dispatch Faith will follow a familiar format: a rundown of important religion news, followed by a thoughtful main item written by leading writers and thinkers of various faith traditions. Karen Swallow Prior will kick things off this weekend with an essay about what English literature taught her about Christian Nationalism.

We don’t see Dispatch Faith as a newsletter version of those “Coexist” bumper stickers you sometimes see on the road. We don’t intend to flatten out the real and substantive differences between believers of different faiths. Nor do we want this newsletter to only cater to one branch of one faith, or drive away those who profess no religious faith. Instead, we want this newsletter to help readers of all sorts better understand religion in general and maybe even some religions in particular—and how they influence politics, policy, and culture writ large.

Those of you who were subscribed to The French Press will automatically receive the first few editions of Dispatch Faith, but you can click here to make sure you’re subscribed before we send the first newsletter. See you on Sunday morning!

What’s Going On With Weed? 

Photo via Getty Images.
Photo via Getty Images.

The country is a much different place than it was in 2009 when a leaked video of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps taking a hit from a marijuana pipe was enough for Kellogg’s cereal to terminate a sponsorship deal with him. 

Long considered taboo, marijuana use has gone mainstream over the last decade. Recent Gallup polling found that half of American adults have tried weed at some point—up from 38 percent in 2014—and that almost one in five currently smoke marijuana regularly. Support for legalizing the substance has also increased, with 57 percent of Americans supporting legalizing cannabis for recreational use according to the Pew Research Center. But with increased usage comes concerns about the drug’s health effects—on both a personal and societal level.

As the cultural tides have shifted on the issue of weed, and on the “War on Drugs” more broadly, several states have moved to change laws and policies to match—with sometimes complicated or unexpected knock-on effects. This week, Maryland became one of several states looking to undo past criminal consequences for cannabis possession, joining nine other states in pardoning crimes, as well as eleven more that went one step further by automatically expunging the convictions.

On Monday, Democratic Maryland Gov. Wes Moore issued roughly 175,000 pardons for low-level marijuana offenses, including those related to the possession of cannabis or marijuana paraphernalia. In 2022, Maryland voters approved a ballot measure to legalize cannabis by an almost 35-point margin. “Legalization does not turn back the clock on decades of harm,” Moore said during the signing ceremony. “We cannot celebrate the benefits of legalization if we do not address the consequences of criminalization.”

Moore’s announcement was timed to coincide with the week of Juneteenth, a nod to the fact that enforcement of marijuana laws has often had a disparate impact on black communities throughout the United States. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, African Americans are almost four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than their white counterparts, even though both demographic groups use the substance at roughly the same rate. “The enforcement of cannabis laws has disproportionately and overwhelmingly burdened communities of color,” said Maryland Attorney General Anthony G. Brown in a press release. “Opportunities were denied because those who were convicted faced steep obstacles to jobs, education, and housing.” 

Those pardons, though, won’t on their own erase the convictions from those individuals’ records. The people pardoned will have to apply for an expungement if they want it off their record, which can be a “costly and difficult process,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, told TMD. “To remove the kind of stigma of a criminal condition that makes it so difficult for people, housing, employment, otherwise go on with their lives, you also need expungement to get rid of that criminal conviction.” 

Moore’s Monday pardon is one of the largest mass pardons of marijuana-related crimes in U.S. history, as was Massachusetts’ effort in March. Still, it affects far fewer people than Illinois’ or California’s expungements in 2020 and 2022, respectively. Current estimates suggest that there have been some 351,000 state-level marijuana-related pardons and 2.15 million state-level marijuana-related expungements, but that figure could be higher.

Maryland is one of 24 states that have legalized the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana—and Florida could join their ranks after November, with recent surveys indicating that a ballot measure to legalize cannabis for recreational use in the state is currently polling at 66 percent. The measure would need 60 percent to pass.

Several other states have decriminalized the substance, meaning infractions are not prosecuted as criminal offenses but rather as violations of local or civil ordinances, often resulting in fines.

And it’s not just states that are reevaluating their marijuana laws. Last month, the Justice Department (DOJ) started the process of reclassifying cannabis from a Schedule 1 to a Schedule 3 drug. Under the Controlled Substances Act [CSA] of 1970, “schedules” categorize drugs into five categories based on their acceptable medical use and their potential for misuse. Under this framework, Schedule 1 is the most restricted—encompassing drugs like heroin and LSD—while Schedule 3 includes drugs that have acceptable medical uses but still carry a risk of misuse, like testosterone or Tylenol with codeine.

The reclassification could pave the way for federal legislation to legalize marijuana use with a prescription—though not for recreational use. It could also allow for federal tax deductions for medical marijuana businesses, potentially relieving some 70 percent of their tax burden. Beyond being a boon for the cannabis industry, reclassification might also make it easier to obtain marijuana for medical use for the approximately 8 million Americans who already do so. Rescheduling the drug could also allow more federally funded research into marijuana’s effect on the body to fill knowledge gaps.

Like many drugs that are already Schedule 3, marijuana can be addictive. Current research suggests about 10 percent of people who start smoking pot could become addicted and that 30 percent of current users have a cannabis use disorder. Though more research is needed, chronic use has been linked to lung cancer.

Even as the DOJ is moving to change marijuana’s classification, federal enforcement of pot possession laws has declined by over 90 percent since 2013, after the DOJ implemented its so-called “Cole Memorandum.” The directive, from then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole, instructed federal U.S. attorneys to prioritize prosecuting “the most significant threats” posed by underground marijuana dealers—including “the distribution of marijuana to minors” and revenue from the cannabis sales funding gangs and other criminal organizations—as states were easing restrictions on possession and use. In 2014, 2,172 offenders were sentenced for violating marijuana possession; only 145 were sentenced in 2021. 

Former President Donald Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, rescinded the memo in 2018. “It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission,” he said at the time. “Therefore, today’s memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all U.S. Attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country.” Attorney General Merrick Garland reversed that decision in 2021.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden has also granted clemency to many of those who were serving federal prison sentences on marijuana charges. “Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely due to the use or possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either,” Biden said in a statement, putting his finger on the scale in favor of less restrictive marijuana laws at all levels of government. 

But Congress could render the DOJ’s reclassification push moot. The “STATES Act,” introduced late last year and sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, would go beyond mere reclassification, removing marijuana from the purview of the Controlled Substances Act altogether and formally sending the decision over whether the substance is legal or illegal to the states. “The Constitution never says the word ‘cannabis,’ but it does say clearly that all powers not explicitly given to the federal government remain with the states,” GOP Rep. Brian Mast of Florida, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said in a press release. “Cannabis policy should be based on that: 50 states should be able to set 50 different policies that are going to be best for their constituents, and that’s exactly what the STATES Act will do.”

Proponents of legalization qua legalization—and not just as a states’ rights issue—point to the potential economic benefits. Citing research from the Marijuana Policy Group, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City suggested in 2022 that the legalization of marijuana in Colorado could have been responsible for more than 13 percent of the state’s employment growth from 2014 to 2017. The policy might also help prop up the struggling commercial real estate sector. A survey from the National Association of Realtors found that, in states where marijuana is legalized, 25 to 29 percent of realtors reported increased demand for warehouses and 18 percent reported the same for storefronts. 

The legalization and taxation of marijuana might also have a positive impact on state budgets. A 2021 analysis from the Cato Institute found that Colorado, Oregon, and California all collect tens of millions of dollars a month in taxes on marijuana. While this only accounts for a fraction of the hundreds of billions of dollars a state like California might spend, these dollars have been used to help fund specific education or veterans affairs programs. 

Many of those who argue in favor of legalizing cannabis start with first principles, not outcomes. “I don’t believe that a state should prevent people from ingesting a substance,” Dr. Jeffrey Singer—a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and founder of Valley Surgical Clinics who’s in favor of sending the issue back to the states—told TMD. “That’s their body and they have a right to put whatever they want to in their body, as long as they don’t jeopardize the rights of others.” 

But troubling findings from Colorado have raised public health questions about pot legalization. A 2021 report from an agency supporting federal drug surveillance suggested that cannabis legalization might have a negative effect on mental health and public safety in Colorado. The percentage of suicides in which marijuana was present in the toxicology report has steadily risen from 14 percent in 2013—the year after Colorado legalized cannabis—to 29 percent in 2020, the last year for which data was available. Data from two state agencies showed that suicides have increased by almost 23 percent since legalization, while teen suicides have doubled. 

Colorado roads also became more dangerous after weed was legalized. In 2013, according to the report, drivers who had marijuana in their systems accounted for just over 11 percent of traffic fatalities. In 2020, those drivers accounted for 21 percent of fatal accidents. 

The trends are worrying, though the data is still far from perfect. “It’s only in recent years that with legalization in many states that people have been willing to discuss this activity with their healthcare practitioners,” Singer said. “It’s impossible at this point to say whether people with mental health disorders [are] self-medicating with cannabis—much in a way people with medical health disorders can self-medicate alcohol—or how much the cannabis might be creating [negative mental health consequences].” 

But, “most likely it’s the former,” he said. “Correlation is not causation.” 

Worth Your Time

  • Is activism broken? “Activists are why we have the Civil Rights Acts and the Voting Rights Act,” our own Sarah Isgur wrote in the New York Times. “Seatbelt laws that swept the country. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. The assault weapons ban in 1994. Campaign finance reform in 2002. But in recent years, activists seem to have become more impulsive and impatient, demanding swift action on big problems without the kind of compromise and incremental work that creates real and lasting change. … So I have a plea for activists on the left and on the right, many of whom I don’t agree with: You have enormous power, more than you may realize. If you master the art of impulse control and play a longer game to put pressure on Congress to get solidly crafted, consensus legislation, you may have a better chance at achieving lasting change on issues like gun control, religious liberty, and immigration.”
  • Market-liberal ideas seem to be going out of vogue, Samuel Gregg argued in Law & Liberty. “Not only have tariffs become the White House’s bipartisan trade policy of preference since 2017, but Republicans and Democrats alike have made it clear that any downsizing of the entitlement programs that constitute the bulk of U.S. government spending is off the political table,” he wrote. Still, market liberals have seen worse. “In [World War I]’s wake came crippling inflation, crushing national debts, a global economy riddled with tariffs, a Bolshevik regime in Moscow committed to radical economic collectivism, and nationalist movements whose anti-capitalism was as intense as their anti-Semitism. … Advancing market liberalism today likewise requires the incorporation of free market ideas into a more comprehensive narrative about a wider revival of America and other Western countries. But however market liberals go about this, there is one obligation of which they cannot lose sight: that concerns their duty to tell the truth, however hard it may be for policymakers and people more generally to hear it.”

Presented Without Comment 

Former President Donald Trump, on President Joe Biden ahead of next week’s debate: 

I assume he will be somebody who will be a worthy debater. I don’t want to underestimate him.

Also Presented Without Comment 

The Hill: Vermont Republican Apologizes After Caught Repeatedly Pouring Water Into Colleague’s Bag

Vermont state Rep. Mary Morrissey (R) publicly apologized Monday for her “disrespectful conduct” toward a Democratic colleague after reports suggested she was responsible for repeatedly pouring water into state Rep. Jim Carroll’s tote bag over the course of five months.

Also Also Presented Without Comment

New York Times: Monkeys in Puerto Rico Got Nicer After Hurricane Maria

In the Zeitgeist

Canadian actor Donald Sutherland—whose appearances on the big screen spanned seven decades—passed away on Thursday at the age of 88. Commemorated with the Order of Canada—the country’s second-highest honor—Sutherland had seemingly endless range, equally able to be unsettling, comedic, heartrending, or warm. Check out some of his greatest performances below: 

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: Will examined the potential for state-level AI regulation to hamper innovation in the industry, The Collision broke down how Trump and Biden’s legal woes could be spotlighted at next week’s debate, and Nick looked at why Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s campaign seems to be circling the drain.
  • On the podcasts: Sarah and David break down the latest round of SCOTUS opinions on Advisory Opinions, while Sarah, Jonah, and Mike preview the upcoming presidential debate and Trump’s veepstakes on The Dispatch Podcast.
  • On the site: Dan Currell explains what’s going wrong with the FAFSA process and Kevin pens an … unconventional candidate profile of Aaron Dimmock, the Republican trying to unseat Rep. Matt Gaetz in Florida.

Let Us Know

What are some stories you’re hoping our new Dispatch Faith newsletter covers?

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.

Peter Gattuso is a reporter for The Morning Dispatch, based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2024, he interned at The Dispatch, National Review, the Cato Institute, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. When Peter is not helping write TMD, he is probably watching baseball, listening to music on vinyl records, or discussing the Jones Act.

Aayush Goodapaty is an intern at The Dispatch, based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company for the 2024 summer, he worked as an intern with Illinois Policy Institute and Public Opinion Strategies. He’s an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, where he is majoring in economics and history. When Aayush is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably watching football, brushing up on trivia, or attempting to find his way to the nearest historical landmark.