Is legal weed doomed to be run by big business?

Pro-marijuana advocates have become surprising foes of some efforts to legalize. Here’s why.

By Mary Jane Gibson – Dec 28, 2022

Last October, when President Biden announced that he would take steps to overhaul America’s marijuana laws and pardon those convicted of simple marijuana possession at the federal level, it seemed on the surface as though the pendulum were finally swinging in the direction that cannabis legalization advocates had been wanting for decades.

It didn’t take long for critics to quickly point out, however, that Biden’s call to review the classification of cannabis — currently a Schedule 1 illegal drug with no medical uses, on par with heroin and LSD — contained one glaring pitfall for those who support legalization: According to advocates, declassifying marijuana completely is the only path forward for a legal cannabis marketplace. Reclassifying, or simply downgrading marijuana to Schedule 2, 3, or 4? That would put cannabis on the level of such drugs as oxycodone or ketamine or Valium — and topple any hope for recreational sales.

It has been a tumultuous year for cannabis policy reform in America, with conflicting interests warring over one of the fastest-growing industries in the US. Legal sales of marijuana were expected to top $33 billion by the end of 2022, largely driven by new, adult-use markets in several states, yet cannabis remains illegal under federal law, and thousands of people are still in prison for marijuana-related offenses.

Against this backdrop, one surprising trend is emerging: push and pull among pro-cannabis advocates who say that legalization may not be the right move after all — or at least not the way it’s shaping up. Their concern? Who will actually benefit from a federally regulated industry.

If cannabis is rescheduled under the Controlled Substances Act, regulating marijuana as medicine, it might, advocates worry, allow Big Pharma to control the market. And if it’s legalized at a federal level, some also fear that conglomerates like Amazon could quickly dominate a national adult-use marijuana industry.

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