What does a Joe Biden presidential victory mean for the future of cannabis? Former vice-president Joe Biden was declared the winner of the hard-fought presidential election Saturday when he secured the 270 electoral votes needed by winning his home state of Pennsylvania. Below is an overview of what we might expect from the incoming 117th Congress and the 46th president of the United States.
A Win for the Cannabis Industry
In an appearance in Delaware Saturday evening, president-elect Joe Biden said, “the people of the nation have spoken. They have delivered us a clear victory, a convincing victory, a victory for ‘we the people.’ We won with the most votes ever cast in the history of our nation.” As of Saturday, Biden had earned more than 74 million votes. Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris from California, have expressed support for pro-reform legislation throughout the campaign trail.
In a stunning victory for legal weed, 5 states in the country voted to pass medical and adult-use bills. Voters in New Jersey, Montana, Mississippi, Arizona, and South Dakota came out in droves in support of legal weed. In fact, pot bills won in all states with historic margins. California voters passed legal weed with a 57% majority. This year, voters passed measures with higher margins: Montana (57%), Arizona (60%), New Jersey (67%).
Biden & Harris Promise Cannabis Reform
During the campaign, Biden had expressed support for pot reform. He has called for decriminalization and the expungement of past weed crimes. He has also called for rescheduling pot to a lower schedule than Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). He hasn’t gone as far as supporting adult-use legislation.
During last month’s presidential debate, Harris stated she would decriminalize weed and expunge the records of those who have been convicted of weed crimes. Harris is also a sponsor of the Marijuana, Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act (S 2227), which would remove pot from the CSA and add a 5% tax rate on sales. Provisions in the act would also focus on weed expungement and industry job training programs.
Biden’s and Harris’ Evolving Views on Cannabis Reform
Our new leadership hasn’t always been a strong advocate for pro-reform legislation. In fact, they’ve played a major role in perpetuating many of the ills caused by the war on drugs. In 1994, Biden authored an infamous crime bill. The measure increased penalties for drug-related crimes. As a result, it became one of the main pieces of legislation that led to mass incarceration. During the campaign, Biden admitted the bill was a “mistake.”
Harris’ past isn’t squeaky clean either. As a prosecutor in San Francisco, she oversaw thousands of weed-related cases. However, most defendants never got jail time. Only a few dozen were sent to prison under her tenure. In 2010, she was a strong opponent of a measure to legalize weed and wasn’t a vocal supporter of the second measure passed in 2016.
Cannabis Stocks React
Weed stocks soared with the news of a Biden victory and several states legalizing adult-use pot. Canopy Growth stocks rose by 10%. Tilray jumped 25%. Aurora Cannabis surged 50%. Curaleaf, Aphria, and Cronos also saw increases on Monday. A majority of pot companies are located in Canada. A Biden win gives investors hope that legal weed may be coming for the U.S. This would allow both weed companies in both countries to work together.
What Does a Joe Biden Win Mean for Cannabis in 2021?
While a Biden-Harris win is big for the industry, the future of pot reform is uncertain, especially with a GOP-controlled Senate. For now, the fate of the Senate rests in several races and runoff elections in Georgia. Runoff elections are expected for January 2021. A Biden Administration may be pro-reform, but the future of the industry largely depends on the makeup of Congress.
If Democrats gain control of the Senate, weed reform is expected to move forward. Democratic leadership has shown support for pro-weed measures. Senator Chuck Schumer from New York is expected to become the majority leader in January if the party gets enough seats. Schumer declared last month that he would put his own descheduling bill “in play” and expects a swift approval.
In the house, Democrats already lost a few seats, but are expected to maintain a majority. The house was set to hold a floor vote on the MORE Act in September. However, they chose to postpone the vote until another coronavirus relief package was approved. A Democrat-controlled Senate could make this pro-pot bill a reality.
However, if Republicans maintain control, the administration would have a hard time moving forward with legalization. Republicans have not been receptive to compromising with Democrats on the issue. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel from Kentucky has been a strong opponent of weed reform. However, he has supported hemp legalization. Weed banking reform has been considered in the Senate and could receive bipartisan support next year.
If Republicans refuse to meet Democrats in the middle on this issue, Biden could take matters into his own hands. He could reinstate an Obama-era memo that prevented federal prosecutors from interfering with state pot laws. The memo was rescinded by the Trump Administration in 2018. Biden also has the power to reschedule pot under the CSA. Biden also gets to appoint an attorney general, drug czar, and other officials that could help shape the face of the industry.
Despite the uncertainty of the future of weed legislation in the U.S., a Biden Administration is a better alternative than a Trump re-election. President Donald Trump has never made a promise or shown clear support for pot legislation during his last 4 years. We don’t expect that would’ve changed with another 4 years.
For more updates on the evolving legal and regulatory landscape in the U.S., check back to our industry blog.