How will the Biden Administration impact cannabis issues in the United States? As Democrats prepare to replace Republicans in many influential Executive Branch posts, Americans speculate about the possibility of changes in federal cannabis policy. Currently, some 36 states permit the use of marijuana for specific medical reasons. Another 15 states have passed state laws decriminalizing adult marijuana use.
A President Opposed to Cannabis Legalization?
Outgoing President Donald Trump has vehemently opposed any federal legalization of marijuana. In 2018, he rescinded a controversial memorandum issued by President Obama instructing federal prosecutors not to interfere with state marijuana directives. Yet, despite his public posture, he did not take any direct action to compel state governments to abide by federal cannabis laws. In fact, the number of states allowing marijuana usage actually increased during his tenure in office.
Most political analysts view President Biden as unlikely to take a firmer anti-cannabis position than his predecessor. During his period of service in the United States Senate some years ago, he did not support pro-cannabis legalization. In fact, he voted in favor of tough federal criminal penalties against drug dealers. Although recent statements suggest he may have modified his position concerning criminal penalties for marijuana possession, he may well veto legislation seeking to decriminalize cannabis.
A Changing Legislative Landscape
Last year, the MORE Act sought to decriminalize marijuana and expunge criminal records for cannabis-related crimes at the federal level. Although the bill passed in the House of Representatives, it did not obtain widespread support in the Senate. The recent election of two Democrats to the United States Senate from Georgia may have significantly changed the prospects for cannabis legalization, however.
During the next two years, Democrats will control the Executive Branch, the House of Representatives, and the Senate. Republicans opposed to measures removing cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances may find themselves unable to prevent the MORE Act (or similar measures) from passing in the Senate. A recent referendum in South Dakota has demonstrated even in very red states, marijuana may rapidly proceed from an illicit drug to a legal adult-use status. As cannabis trade industry groups gain strength, lobbyists may soon begin changing more opinions on Capitol Hill.
Shifts in Public Opinion
Indeed, a sea change in public opinion since the turn of the century may herald looming modifications in federal cannabis policy. The Motley Fool reports only one in four Americans supported legalizing marijuana during the final quarter of the Twentieth Century. By 2018, after a number of states had enacted adult cannabis use laws, that number ticked upwards to more than one out of every two voters (66%). Interestingly, Canada has already taken the step of legalizing marijuana at a national level. Will the United States shortly follow suit?
Vice President Kamala Harris has already modified her position on the issue, for example. One a vocal supporter of incarcerating drug dealers, she reportedly has advocated the decriminalization of cannabis. During one recent presidential debate, nine of eleven Democrats running for president in 2020 issued public statements favoring legalization. If the opinion of Vice President Harris carries weight with President Biden, might it incline him to sign the MORE Act if that legislation ever reaches his desk?
Americans may remember Prohibition ended during the Great Depression. Alcoholic beverages generated significant revenue for financially hard-hit businesses (and for taxing authorities). In light of the economic hardship accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, will cannabis witness a similar return to legal acceptance?
Some factors suggest a fledgling marijuana industry might boost the U.S. economy during a period of widespread financial challenges. Economists point out financial, marketing, and branding aspects of a legal cannabis trade might well create jobs. President Biden has expressed an interest in stimulating the economy during the next two years. Yet whether Democrats in Congress and the Executive Branch will view legalizing marijuana as a step towards this goal remains unclear at this time.