The U.S. could legalize marijuana at the federal level as soon as 2021 if Joe Biden is able to win the presidential election and Democrats take control of the Senate.

It’s a dramatic change in expectations from three months ago when it appeared Donald Trump would most likely win re-election, and CIBC analysts had put the odds of meaningful reform at “near-zero” for 2020 and “unlikely” for 2021.

“A fact that has become incredibly obvious from a chaotic 2020 is how quickly things can change,” analysts led by John Zamparo wrote in a note. “We stand by our statement for 2020, but for 2021, well, when the facts change, we change our minds.”

With the economic fallout from the coronavirus and social unrest following the murder of George Floyd by police, Biden’s chances of winning the election in a possible Democratic sweep has appeared increasingly likely. The former vice president is less supportive of full-scale legalization than his party. But if the Democrats were to win both the White House and Senate, it could open the door to decriminalization and leave the question of legalization up to states.

Legislation could prove popular under the current climate of economic and social unrest. Regulation that includes provisions for criminal justice reform could gain additional support amid calls for greater anti-racism initiatives. States looking to close budget gaps from the coronavirus are also more likely to consider the tax benefits of creating a newly legalized industry.

During a recent Cowen industry panel, there was broad agreement that social justice measures need to be a part of any legislation package, analysts led by Vivien Azer wrote in a note.

“This likely includes provisions ensuring that minorities get to participate in the legal cannabis business as their communities were hit hardest by the war on drugs,” the analysts said. Legislation could also include expunging criminal cannabis convictions or grants to communities hurt by previous U.S. drug policy.

“Biden will be under pressure from the left wing of the Democratic party to move cannabis forward because of the social justice issues,” Curaleaf Holdings Inc. Chairman Boris Jordan recently told Bloomberg News.

There had been some disappointment after a Biden Unity task force didn’t embrace the same cannabis policy proposals from Bernie Sanders’s campaign. Most importantly, it left out full deschedulization, opting instead to make marijuana a schedule 2 drug rather than a schedule 1.

However, Cowen wrote that could be simply a first step. The platform still represents the most aggressive yet from a Democratic nominee.


By Jennifer-Bissell Linsk for Bloomberg