Democratic-led Senate could clear a path to marijuana legalization
The following Cannabis Corner article this week has been developed from recent published sources by PorterPartners, and is deemed to be of prime current interest to FON members who have cannabis-related investments in their portfolios, or are considering such investments.
Piecemeal cannabis bills will have a better shot, however, than large-scale change. Democrats taking control of the Senate — decided Wednesday by Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff’s win over GOP Sen. David Perdue in the Georgia Senate runoff election — significantly changes the prospects for passing cannabis legislation in the new Congress.
Some pro-cannabis senators and advocates say legalization may be more likely to progress if it is part of a policing and criminal justice reform package. Piecemeal legislation with broader bipartisan support such as banking access for cannabis businesses and medical marijuana research, however, have a better chance to advance. Chances greatly increase under a chamber led by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) for the removal of a rider prohibiting the District of Columbia from starting a regulated cannabis industry.
Banking legislation: Prospects for passing legislation that would make it easier for marijuana businesses to access banking rise significantly with Democrats in control of the Senate. The SAFE Banking Act enjoys broad bipartisan support: It passed the House with support from nearly half of the chamber’s Republicans on board, and five GOP senators co-sponsored the bill in the last Congress. But McConnell’s reluctance to bring any marijuana bills to the floor for a vote hamstrung its ability to advance.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is expected to become the next chair of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. Brown didn’t cosponsor cannabis banking bill in the last Congress, but he said in several interviews during the 116th Congress that the banking bill was something Democrats wanted to work on with Republicans. He added, however, that Democrats’ ambitions are not limited to banking access. “We’re not just going to help the banks and then not at all deal with the damage that has been caused by arrests and law enforcement,” Brown said in late 2019.
Marijuana legalization: The biggest question mark is whether the Senate can pass comprehensive changes to federal marijuana policy — including removing federal penalties around marijuana use and possession, regulating a new industry and expunging past marijuana-related criminal records. Schumer has promised that a Democratic-controlled chamber will try to pass sweeping changes. Schumer has made legalization part of his criminal justice reform priorities. The House has already paved part of the road for the Senate, passing the MORE Act — which would remove federal penalties and expunge records — in early December.They are expected to bring up the same bill in the 117th Congress.
Securing the votes, however, is another story. It will almost certainly require 60 votes to move any legislation, meaning there will need to be significant buy-in from Republicans. Moderate Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia are not guaranteed allies, and pro-legalization Republicans can’t be counted on to vote for a bill as progressive as the MORE Act. Just five Republicans backed the bill in the House. Anti-legalization advocates are also banking on the slim majority to defeat any possible major legislative changes.
Harris will be the tie-breaking vote in the Senate. She was the Senate sponsor of the MORE Act in the 116th Congress and spoke regularly about the need for marijuana policy reform on the campaign trail during her own bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Advocates and lawmakers expect that, if needed, she will not only cast a vote in favor of marijuana but will actively champion the issue as part of the new administration.
What’s next: Cannabis won’t be near the top of the agenda for a Democratic-controlled Congress or the Biden administration because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the nation’s economic recovery. That means it will likely be months before any legislative proposals get serious consideration, unless they are part of a larger package. For example, banking could be included in a larger economic growth bill, and marijuana legalization in a criminal justice reform bill.
If any FON member would like more information on this article, or to discuss this or any other aspect of the cannabis industry, please contact Dean Porter at (843) 849-3191, or by e-mail at [email protected]. PorterPartners is a free resource and member benefit available to all FON members providing insight and information relating to the cannabis industry.