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What the Cannabis Industry May Expect From The Biden Administration

Posted: February 20, 2021 in Blog

Now that the Democrats have control of all three branches of government with a slight majority in the House and Senate, what can the cannabis industry expect from this administration? President Biden is not a fan of federal legalization but he does support decriminalization. However, if there is to be any significant cannabis reform, that will require the passage of legislation by Congress. In this article, I will explain President Biden’s position on cannabis reform laws, will present the latest developments on cannabis reform legislation by lawmakers, and will list the stance of many Biden administration picks on cannabis reform.

President Biden’s Position on Cannabis Reform Laws

Supports

  • Adult-use cannabis decriminalization 
  • Medical cannabis legalization
  • Moderate federal rescheduling
  • Expungement of criminal records
  • Allowing states to dictate their own policies free of federal intervention
  • Repairing the damage that past cannabis laws have caused

Opposes 

  • Recreational legalization

Position of Majority Leader Chuck Schumer 

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) issued a statement on January 28, 2021 that lawmakers are currently in the process of combining cannabis bills to come up with legislation that he hopes will pass the Senate. This includes the following:

MORE Act which was originally filed in 2019 and updated in 2020, passed by the House of Representatives in December 2020. It was never brought up for a vote in the then-Republican controlled Senate, so the legislation was tabled at the end of the last legislative session.

Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act of 2019 which was filed by then-Minority Leader Schumer and House Majority Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) 8th District.

  • Remove cannabis from the Controlled Substance Act 1970 (CSA)
  • Protect children by regulating cannabis advertising similar to that of tobacco advertising. This falls under the jurisdiction of the Treasury Department who is tasked with making sure cannabis businesses do not target minors in their advertisements.
  • Authorize grant programs through state and local jurisdictions to facilitate record sealing and expungement of non-violent cannabis convictions. The Department of Justice would be allocated $100 million over five years to fund these programs.
  • Priority support for the development of small businesses by minority and women business owners.

Schumer has not cited any other previous cannabis reform bills that he is considering adding, but he wanted to make it clear that his focus for legalizing cannabis is equity-based. 

Here are his other important considerations for successfully creating equity in the cannabis industry:

  • Ensure that large corporations don’t set up a monopoly in the cannabis market at the exclusion of small cannabis businesses, especially those run by minorities and people of color.
  • Ensure that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not impose unreasonable regulations on existing cannabis businesses once the legislation goes into effect.
  • Allocate funding for the development of an accurate cannabis breathalyzer for the detection of impaired driving similar to that of alcohol.
  • Right the wrongs that enforcement of cannabis criminalization has wrought on minority communities across the country.

What The Democratic Senate Majority Means For Cannabis Reform Laws

Prior to the November 2020 election, Senator Schumer vowed to bring cannabis reform legislation to the floor as soon as possible if the Democrats regained the majority. With the election of both Democratic senators in the two special Georgia Senate elections on January 5, 2021, that is exactly what he is doing.

Schumer describes himself as a champion for racial justice and he views his cannabis reform legislation as the culmination of racial justice, individual freedom, and states’ rights. This includes changes in policing, and in protecting banks that service the cannabis industry.

Cannabis Banking

If cannabis is removed from the CSA, banks would no longer be barred from providing services for the industry.

If the MORE Act fails to pass the Senate, there is the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act which allows financial institutions to work with cannabis-related businesses. It did not pass in the Republican-controlled Senate but it has a greater chance of passing the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Lawmakers who support full legalization hope that President Biden would not veto or attempt to sabotage any comprehensive cannabis reform laws that congressional leaders pass.

So far this year, there have been two congressional bills filed:

  1. To reschedule cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the CSA
  2. To prevent the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from denying benefits to veterans entirely based on their use of medical cannabis in legal cannabis states.

Position of Biden Appointees on Cannabis Reform Laws

While President Biden may not be an advocate of radical cannabis reform laws, many of his appointees support it. Here are some examples:

  • California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D), chosen to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is open to reform.
  • Pediatrician Rachel Levine, former Secretary of Pennsylvania Department of Health, chosen to be Assistant Health Secretary, has a strong connection to the medical cannabis community. 
  • New Democratic National Committee Party Chair, Jaime Harrison, who opposed Lindsey Graham for his South Carolina Senate seat, supports full cannabis legalization. 
  • Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo (D), chosen as Secretary of Commerce, came out in favor of legalization in 2019. 
  • Vanita Gupta, civil rights activist and former prosecutor, has been chosen as associate attorney general. She supports cannabis legalization and has strongly criticized the unfair and draconian criminalization policies for non-violent drug offenses.
  • Judge Merrick Garland, nominated as US attorney general, has not been very forthcoming with his position on cannabis policy. It appears that he is not adverse to implementing cannabis policy changes.

The outlook for cannabis reform legislation is looking brighter than ever!

Sources:

marijuanamoment.net, Chuck Schumer Says Marijuana Reform Bills Are Being Merged as Congress Moves to Legalize, Kyle Jaeger, Jan. 28, 2021Norml.org, Federal: Support the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act
kcrw.com, This Week in Weed: What Will “Bud” Look Like Under the Biden Administration, hosted by Larry Perel with David Downs, Jan. 22, 2021
marijuanamoment.net, Chuck Schumer Lists Marijuana as a Priority in First Post-Election Cannabis Comments, Kyle Jaeger, Jan. 26, 2021

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