Today both Democrat candidates in the Georgian Senate runoff won their battles against their Republican counterparts, meaning that for the first time since 2006, the Democrats have control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate – a monumental feat, but what does this mean for cannabis?

US States have been passing legalisation bills, mostly through ballot, at every possible opportunity, and have done so with a 100% success rate. There are now 13 recreationally legal states, and 35 medically legal states. The elephant in the room for consumers, cultivators and the industry has long been that federal legalisation has seemed a long way off. But this could be about to change.

Last year, the Dems pushed the MORE Act through the House, a comprehensive piece of cannabis reform legislation which encompassed regulation, decriminalisation and expungement – a historic moment, even if the vote was entirely symbolic, coming just weeks before the session ended. 

Looking more closely at the numbers on that vote, there were roughly equal numbers of Congress rebels on both sides of the house, with the vast majority voting along party lines. The majority in the Senate will be extremely slender, with any Dem rebellion potentially scuppering the chances for federal legalisation. Having said this, Republicans of a libertarian persuasion could cancel out right-leaning Dems to push through this currently hypothetical situation.

Equally, a bill that has been kicking around soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader’s Mitch McConnell’s desk has been the SAFE act, a bill with cross-party support that would allow for US cannabis companies to bank their hard earned cash.

What would need to happen?

As mentioned above, the historic moment for the MORE Act will count for nothing but indications on voting lines and symbolism. Any piece of legislation such as the MORE Act or the SAFE act, would need to go back through all chambers of the US political system, starting back at the House.

Whilst filibustering could slow down the process, the ever-present thorn in the side of cannabis reformers, Mitch McConnell, would not be able to block attempts, as he loses his Senate majority power. The Democrat equivalent, who would become Majority Leader, the person who essentially decides which legislation gets a hearing, will be Chuck Schumer – a man who has already stated the Democrats would prioritise federal cannabis reforms.

To summarise, for any bill to become law it would first have to be voted through the House of Representatives, followed by the Senate and finally signed into the law by President-Elect Joe Biden.

Where does the new administration stand?

The negative impacts of drugs on society is something that is close to the heart of Joe Biden, with much furore made of his son’s battles with cocaine during last year’s election. Where personal experience with negative consequences of drugs can go two ways for those affected, Biden has previously been known to talk tough, and vote tough on drugs, but with time his stance has softened.

It may be that this shift in approach is led less by personal experience, and more by the polls – support for cannabis legalisation in the US is enormous, with two-thirds supporting legalisation, which rises to 78% (almost 8 in 10) when polling Democrat-leaning voters.

When it comes to Kamala Harris, the Vice President-Elect, things seem more straightforward. Not only has she pledged to decriminalise the possession of cannabis, but she is a Senate sponsor for the MORE Act.

So, what next?

Given that the coronavirus has surged with a vengeance, the new administration could be forgiven for parking the cannabis bills in favour of the relief bills that have been blocked, and then severely watered down, by the Republicans. However, so keen were the Democrats to reform cannabis policies that they included the SAFE Act in their Covid Relief Bill, which also passed the House. Despite it being removed by the time the bill reached the Senate, it is another clear indication that the Democrats look likely to make positive steps with cannabis.

This piece was written by Ant Lehane, Head of Communication at Volteface

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