Welcome to the Cannabis issue – Politico

In some parts of America, adults who want to smoke marijuana or consume some other cannabis product can walk around the corner or drive to a shopping center and buy whatever they’d like. In other parts of America, thousands of people a year are arrested, charged and sometimes jailed for the same activities — buying, selling or possessing cannabis.

It’s a contradiction that’s been intensifying for years as state after state eases prohibitions on marijuana and the federal government sticks to its guns. Already 33 states permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes and 10 have fully legalized all adult use; Illinois will become the 11th next year. But at the federal level, marijuana remains as illegal as ever.

Needless to say, this is an extraordinary test of federalism and the power of states to challenge it. As POLITICO Pro senior cannabis reporter Natalie Fertig writes, the conflict between state and federal law creates bizarre hardships for many participants in this new economy, from the farmer who has to pay his federal taxes in cash to the researcher in California who has to buy marijuana from a federal farm in Mississippi instead of getting it from the dispensary down the street. Fertig tracks how the debate is evolving, including signs that federal lawmakers are beginning to respond to growing pressure from the states.

Even as marijuana advocates and foes square off over legalization, neither has much science on their side. That’s because federal restrictions on marijuana research mean that we still know very little about how cannabis acts in the human body — and the current rash of vaping-related illnesses underscores how dangerous that ignorance is. POLITICO Pro health reporter Sarah Owermohle profiles two Colorado researchers who have had to develop complex workarounds to conduct basic research on marijuana even in a state that has fully legalized, including outfitting vans as mobile labs so they can test research volunteers off campus.

Elsewhere in the issue, Zachary Warmbrodt and Alexander Nieves, who write for POLITICO’S financial services and California statehouse teams, explore how prohibitions on providing financial services to cannabis businesses are having negative knock-on effects on other companies — including the iconic fertilizer company that makes Miracle-Gro; POLITICO Pro agriculture reporter Liz Crampton describes how Congress’ decision last year to legalize hemp has confused the debate over cannabis legalization; and POLITICO Pro tax reporter Bernie Becker looks at why state tax revenues from cannabis haven’t been the windfall many expected.

Our issue also includes two counterintuitive views of legalization: an exclusive interview with Rep. David Joyce, a Republican from Ohio who has, somewhat incongruously, emerged as a leading voice on Capitol Hill in favor of legalization, and an op-ed from documentary filmmaker Jane Wells, who, despite being an avowed progressive, spent 18 months filming a documentary in Colorado and has concluded that legalization might not be such a good idea after all.

And finally, if you’re confused about what’s legal where, and just what all those cannabis terms mean, we have two tools to help: an interactive map of cannabis legalization called The Dis-United States of Cannabis, and Everything you wanted to know about cannabis, POLITICO’S guide to cannabis terminology. We’ll be keeping both updated as this unusual, and fascinating, test of U.S. federalism evolves.

Welcome to The Agenda Special Report: The Great American Cannabis Experiment.

— Maura Reynolds, editor

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