The shift in political leadership in the executive branch and the Senate is making some legal cannabis professionals and pundits feel both excited and optimistic about the future. From reactivating stalled cannabis reform laws, such as the MORE Act, which decriminalizes marijuana, to making federal legalization a reality, there is hope that the new Biden/Harris administration coupled with a Democrat-controlled Congress, could perhaps herald an era of promise and progression for the sector.
Yet, because of the ongoing pandemic and recession, the industry might not see significant tailwinds until another two to three years, cautioned Matt Hawkins, founder and managing partner for cannabis-focused private equity firm Entourage Effect Capital.
“Legalization isn’t necessarily a top priority for the executive branch,” he explained. For Hawkins, passing the STATES Act should be a top priority “since it allows individual states to determine their own legalization framework and support local businesses without interference from the federal government. In this scenario, cannabis products still won’t be able to cross state lines, but the model could mirror current policies that govern the alcohol industry.”
Brandon Wiegand, the regional general manager of The Source dispensaries in Nevada, said the fact that the Senate is no longer under the control of former Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), raises the stakes in favor of the legal cannabis landscape. “With McConnell no longer in a position to obstruct cannabis legislation, I believe we will see [stalled cannabis bills] move forward, giving the cannabis industry much needed support and meaningful reform,” he continued.
In addition to the STATES and MORE Acts, another notable pro-cannabis measure that has been languishing in the Senate since its passage in the House of Representatives has been the SAFE Banking Act, which allows banks and other financial institutions to work with cannabis companies without fear of prosecution. This is a critical piece of legislation, which if passed, would be a watershed as many cannabis businesses are forced to operate as cash-only enterprises because of the federal illegality.
Not everyone is so sure the new political leadership will be auspicious for the industry. Solonje Burnett, co-founder of Humble Bloom, a Brooklyn, New York-based cannabis advocacy and education platform, expressed apprehension. To prove her point, she invoked President Biden’s historically less than progressive attitude and Vice President Harris’ past hardline record stemming from her years as a California Attorney General and district attorney in the city of San Francisco.
“Biden and Harris have never really been leaning liberal toward cannabis,” she said. “These two might be progressive in comparison to [former President] Trump’s white supremacy ways of being but he was so far to the right, it makes them left.”
Recently, both Biden and Harris reversed their previous stance toward cannabis, advocating for decriminalization. Also, [Former California Senator now Vice President] Harris is also a sponsor of the MORE Act.
“Decriminalization would be a step in the right direction,” said Wiegand as it “would pave the way to decrease federal incarceration rates for low-level and minor cannabis offenses… [Also, it] would remove federal penalties on cannabis, make SBA loans available to the industry and prohibit the denial of federal benefits on the basis of cannabis-related conduct and/or convictions.”
Despite her concerns, Burnett does feel legalization will happen during the new administration. She cited a variety of factors, which include the opioid crisis as well as another reason—Wall Street. “I’ve been watching cannabis stocks rising and rising,” she said.
Currently, there are 36 states (plus D.C.) that have legal medical marijuana markets and 15 states (plus D.C.) that have permit recreational use. And, according to a recent Gallup poll, nearly 70 percent of Americans support legalization.
Still, Burnett is frustrated over what she perceives to be a dearth of inside knowledge legislators have about cannabis as well as the psychological and economic toll wrongful incarceration for minor offenses exact on people of color.
“These people who are making the laws—have they ever smoked?” Burnett asked rhetorically. “Have they had family who have had convictions for minor cannabis offenses? This has decimated communities and they’re not thinking the way they should be.”