What changes as cannabis becomes legal in more places?
William Weld // WTF VICE
William Weld is the former governor of Massachusetts, the 2016 vice presidential nominee on the libertarian ticket and a potential GOP presidential candidate.
He was also a Department of Justice official tasked with overseeing Drug Enforcement Agency prosecutions during the “Just say no” Reagan years. Which seemingly makes him an odd choice for the board of directors of Acreage Holdings, a cannabis-focused investment firm. In that role he joins some strange bedfellows; former Speaker of the U.S. House John Boehner and former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney—two deeply conservative politicians. (We’ll talk about them a bit later.) When Gov. Weld thinks What the Future he’s wondering how the legal landscape for cannabis will shape up.
GenPop: What are the challenges of operating in an industry with so many different state, local and federal regulatory agencies?
William Weld: The biggest challenge is that cannabis is still a Schedule 1 narcotic, and that’s kind of ludicrous. It doesn’t belong anywhere in the Controlled Substance Act. That’s supposed to be for items that have no medicinal value whatsoever, and that’s clearly not true of cannabis. You’ve got people who find that it’s very helpful against pain. They’re not going to be too pleased if they’re told that because of a quirk in federal law that we’re going to undo what 33 states [that have legalized medical cannabis] have embraced.
GenPop: What else will need to be addressed as businesses in this space look to scale up?
Weld: There are a lot of problems right now for mom-and-pop businesses. [Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code] says you can’t deduct your expenses [involving Schedule 1 narcotics] so it makes that business much more expensive. Bankability is a real problem. There’s one bank in Massachusetts that’s willing to roll the dice here, and they’re doing a land office business. But most banks won’t go near [lending to cannabis businesses] as long as it’s a Schedule 1.
GenPop: In answering the survey question you asked, people said they want the federal government to defer to the states by a wide margin. But if we unpack that a little bit, we see they also want the federal government to legalize cannabis for medical purposes, if not for recreation as well.
Weld: I think the fact that the survey says they want to regulate medical cannabis just means that they want cannabis to be totally legal and then to have it subject to the same FDA oversight as other medicines.
GenPop: If the Schedule 1 gets lifted, do you think we’ll see more regulations coming that treat cannabis more like a normal industry, with the FDA and FTC looking at marketing and research claims? Or the NIH being able to fund more research at the federal level?
Weld: You know, you put your finger on it. It would make it like a normal industry. In a normal industry you can’t go make false claims and that sort of thing. So I think that would be a healthy state of affairs. But the problem now is you can’t even study it. And the hypocrisy of the current regulatory regime is well-illustrated. There’s a drug called Epidiolex which is used to treat two rare forms of epilepsy. There’s no question that CBD is very effective against that. So the FDA approved a cannabis drug even though it’s a Schedule 1 narcotic in the United States.
Glossary: THC and CBD are two chemical compounds found in cannabis plants.THC has psychoactive effects that causes a feeling of being intoxicated, ‘high’ or ‘stoned’.
CBD has been shown in preliminary research to have potential benefits in treating a wide variety of health concerns, including sleep disorders, chronic pain, and anxiety. CBD does not have a psychoactive impact that makes someone feel intoxicated, ‘high’ or ‘stoned’.
Who should control cannabis laws? (Federal vs. States)
Federal government laws should be followed, and cannabis should be considered illegal, even in states that have decided to legalize it.
This is a state's rights issue. The federal government should leave regulation to the states, and [cannabis/marijuana] should be legal where states have legalized it.
(Source: Ipsos survey conducted between Feb. 7 and 11, 2019 among 1,005 adults in the U.S. Note: An additional 1,005 adults were asked the same questions using the term “marijuana” instead of “cannabis” which yielded some small differences in the responses.)
Cannabis use and regulation
Which of the following four statements do you agree with?
The federal government should legalize cannabis for medical uses only.
The federal government should legalize cannabis for medical and recreational use.
The federal government should defer to the states about legalization of cannabis.
The federal government should keep cannabis illegal.
Source: Ipsos survey conducted between Feb. 7 and 11, 2019 among 2,010 adults in the U.S.
GenPop: Do you think we’ll see the U.S. start to look more like Canada, which recently legalized recreational use, but with strings attached?
Weld: Many people think that this state-by-state approach is just fine. And I think that includes Boehner and myself. If Alabama, for instance, didn’t want to legalize it, that’s fine with me. There will always be that distinction between Canada and the U.S., but the future of the industry is in the U.S. I’ve seen stats that the American market is going to be 75 percent of the worldwide market, and Canada will be 10 percent, and the rest of the world will be 15 percent. Now maybe that is subject to change over the years, but that’s looking at least several years out. That creates a lot of hydraulic force in favor of Americans solving this problem of de-scheduling.
GenPop: The constituencies of cannabis have often seemed a little more Democratic. So does having people like you and Speaker Boehner and Prime Minister Mulroney coming from a more Republican or conservative standpoint lend a little more credence and bipartisanship to these issues?
Weld: People were just flabbergasted and happy to be able to cross-examine John Boehner on why he changed his view on the matter. He had said when he was speaker that he was unalterably opposed to the legalization of marijuana. He said if you’re a member of the House and you don’t listen to your constituents, you’re not going to be a member of the House for very long. And that’s a true fact. And so in his case and in PM Mulroney’s case it was just reflecting on the merits and also listening to the constituents.
GenPop: Right, and you’ve been a long-time supporter of legalization.
Weld: I came out in favor of marijuana in 1991, my first year in office [as governor]. I had seen just enough about how cannabis was useful in treating glaucoma and treating nausea from chemotherapy. So I said, Why not? Let’s make it legal.
GenPop: Do you look forward to getting past all of this discussion and starting to think about this more like an actual business, in terms of marketing and developing products, and reaching out to consumers and all of those normal business challenges?
Weld: Well, I look forward to the market not having this overhang on it, which it now has. And, you know, it would be terrific for Acreage Holdings and the entire industry not to have discriminatory tax treatment and not to have discriminatory bankability. That’s life right now for the little companies. And it’s very difficult for them.
What the Future is a quarterly deep dive into different aspects of consumer and social thought and behavior. Each edition features exclusive new data from world-leading research firm Ipsos. WTF explores how a single industry or behavior fits into the broader culture now and in the coming decades. Read Previous WTF Issues »