President Donald Trump’s term has come to a fateful end. Now, some are wondering what an America under Joe Biden’s administration will look like. He’s got a lot on his plate: from addressing recent acts of insurgency to climate change and health care. However, many in the cannabis community are thinking about what his presidential victory means for the future of cannabis, now that Trump's anti-pot stance ends.
David Downs is the California bureau chief and a senior editor for the cannabis website Leafly.com. He joined us to give a look at whether a pro-weed mindset is expected under the 46th president or if that previous position will continue.
KCRW: When it comes to weed, Trump's record isn't as clear as his positions on things like immigration or even public health. But his cabinet members like anti-drug warrior Jeff Sessions, set a pretty clear tone. What kind of impact did this presidency have on cannabis reform?
David Downs: “Yeah, we saw the president say he was kind of a states rights guy, but his Republicans in Capitol Hill marched lockstep, stymieing cannabis law reform for the last four years. So there's this perception among some of his supporters that Trump is okay with marijuana.
The reality is that Senate Majority Leader or then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell went out of his way, along with other of his colleagues, to make sure that research and other aspects of marijuana law reform did not advance over the last four years.”
Here comes Joe Biden. He wasn't the most pro weed candidate in the Democratic primary, and he has a history of pushing punitive anti-drug legislation. What are you projecting?
Downs: “Under his presidency, the outlook became better than expected, and it became better when the Georgia Senate race was concluded and two Senate seats became occupied by Democrats.
That completely changes the game for the Senate marijuana calendar in 2021 and going forward.
Now some legislation that started in the House actually has a chance in the Senate to change cannabis law in America as we know it for the first time, substantially since really 1967, when the Controlled Substances Act placed marijuana as a schedule one drug over the opinions of doctors and labeled it as dangerous as sort of heroin and PCP.”
Could weed be legalized under a Biden administration?
Downs: “Senator Chuck Schumer, who is the Majority Leader in the Senate, told me that he intends to pass the Moore Act, which the House passed on December 4th.
That is the most far ranging reform for marijuana law we'll see in our lifetime. It would mean cannabis is not a schedule one drug. It would mean expungement for past cannabis crimes and Small Business Administration loans for cannabis businesses.
It would be a complete turnaround from the federal stance going for the last couple of decades.
It would not legalize marijuana at the state level. States still have their own Controlled Substances Act. But with regard to federal enforcement of marijuana, we have the possibility of sort of ending the scheduling of cannabis in 2021.”
One of the biggest complaints among the cannabis industry is that it's currently a cash business with legalizing the business on a federal level. Would that change?
Downs: “Yes, banks are responding to the Controlled Substances Act and marijuana's placement in schedule one.
If marijuana is scheduled and removed from the Controlled Substances Act, banks would no longer be violating the Controlled Substances Act
If the More Act doesn't pass this year, there's a more tame flavor of reform called the Safe Banking Act that has already made it into the Senate that didn't pass and that would specifically tell banks that they're okay to bank legal cannabis dollars in these states.”
It might take a while for any action to blow over on the weed front. What has it been looking like in states that just legalized weed?
Downs: “It is, again, a new day and the outlook is better than expected.
In this last election, we saw five states legalize cannabis. And now since these are Republican controlled states, there's going to be some actions around the implementation of legalization.
The Dakotas, Montana and New Jersey are all tussling with what the will of the people actually meant when they legalized marijuana as well as Arizona in the 2020 elections. They're going to be trying to get those programs up and running.
Furthermore, New York's Governor Cuomo intends to legalize cannabis this year. We expect the legislatures of Connecticut, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Maryland to consider further reforms. These are all Midwest, Southern, or Eastern states. We are far away from the traditional bastions, bastions of cannabis law reform. We are truly in the backcountry of prohibition. This is where the battle is going to be fought now.”