Congress has still not managed to get a marijuana decriminalization bill to the president’s desk. The chances are pretty good that the president will not see a bill before 2022 is out. And still, certain members of Congress now want their colleagues to consider legislation that protects interstate pot sales.
U.S. Reps. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) have introduced the “Small and Homestead Independent Producers (SHIP) Act” in hopes of protecting smaller growers by allowing them to ship marijuana directly to customers in both in-state and out-of-state.
According to the lawmakers, smaller growers do not have the resources to compete against their corporate counterparts, especially those corporations that already have a multi-state presence. The SHIP Act will supposedly help them by removing any barriers to interstate shipping.
Decriminalization Comes First
It goes without saying that federal decriminalization must come first. The SHIP Act is meaningless as long as marijuana remains on the Schedule I list of controlled substances.
Furthermore, full decriminalization would be necessary to make the SHIP Act worthwhile. If Congress merely reschedules marijuana in order to maintain some measure of control, there will have to be some regulatory restrictions involving interstate shipping. That would defeat the entire purpose of the bill.
At any rate, protecting smaller growers by removing shipping barriers is one way to level the playing field. But it is hard to imagine that interstate shipping alone would do the trick for smaller operations. Just look at corporate consolidation in other industries.
Corporations have financial resources that mom-and-pop operators do not have. Corporations also have the advantage of scale. They can demand lower prices on every material they buy because they purchase in such high volumes. Likewise, they can sell at lower prices and still make a hefty profit.
Possible Influence on the Medical Market
Even though the SHIP Act would not protect small growers entirely, it could have a significant impact on the medical market. Any states that got on board with the legislation could give patients within their borders more options for access. That could ultimately lead to better products and lower prices.
Utah is one state that could benefit if it agreed to interstate transport. According to Utahmarijuana.org, patients in the Beehive State currently have access to just fifteen pharmacies. Most of those pharmacies are located in metropolitan areas. The problem is that Utah is a largely rural state.
Consider a rural patient using medical cannabis to manage chronic pain. Imagine that patient having the choice between a 20-minute trip into Arizona or a 60-minute drive to a state licensed pharmacy. Which choice seems more likely?
Utahmarijuana.org says that state law originally allowed patients in rural areas to visit neighboring states to obtain medical cannabis. The law has since been changed. Now, all medical cannabis consumed in the state must be grown, processed, and purchased in the state.
Decriminalization Isn’t Guaranteed
Huffman and Blumenauer are banking on marijuana being eventually decriminalized. Yet there are no guarantees. For the better part of two years, Washington Democrats have been promising to get a decriminalization bill through. They have failed thus far.
Chances are good that Democrats will lose the house this November. So, starting in 2023, decriminalization will be even harder. That is not to say it cannot happen. It could. But the chances are getting slimmer with each passing day.
Congress is now being asked to consider a bill that would protect small growers looking to sell directly to consumers. For that legislation to be relevant, marijuana needs to be legalized across the board. That is what it really boils down to.