After nearly a decade of conversation and education on the Hill, the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee finally held a markup on the Secure and Fair Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act. Previously known as the SAFE Banking Act, the “R” was included to account for Sen. Jack Reed’s (D-RI) concerns with Section 10. The senator shared his concerns publicly on May 11 during the “Examining Cannabis Banking Challenges of Small Businesses and Workers” hearing. Sen. Reed said that Section 10’s language “would make it more difficult for federal regulators to raise the alarm about relationships with any customer that presents significant risks to the bank” and shared that such a provision is “not limited to the marijuana industry or the cannabis industry,” but that it “could allow pyramid schemes or all sorts of other interesting activity to go on without an effective response by the regulator.” Since then, he and a group of bipartisan members, including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Banking Committee Chair Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), have worked endlessly to develop language to resolve such concerns while maintaining GOP support, leading to the SAFER Banking Act.
The difference between the SAFE Banking Act and the SAFER Banking Act can mainly be found in Section 10. Changes focus on and determines:
How regulators terminate bank accounts;
How the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) develops guidance for financial institutions serving state-licensed cannabis businesses;
How income derived from state-legal cannabis business activity is managed;
That personal and political beliefs cannot impact a financial regulator’s decision making;
That federal banking regulators and state banking supervisors and their secretaries of Commerce and Treasury would create rules to increase access to deposit accounts and how such individuals would enhance customer relationships with rural, low- and moderate-income, unbanked and tribal communities; and
How the FDIC would conduct a biennial survey and report on barriers for small- and medium-sized businesses.
During the markup on Wednesday, members introduced and discussed a range of amendments related to criminal justice reform, the racial wealth gap, federal regulators and their processes, rescheduling and the opioid epidemic. In total, there were six amendments, one by Chairman Brown, as well as Sens. Mike Crapo (R-ID), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Mike Rounds (R-SD) and two by Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA). Sen. Brown’s amendment, which would make technical changes to the bill, was the only amendment to prevail on a 17-6 vote.
To begin the markup, Chair Brown said that propelling this legislation is a critical step in reversing the damage done by the war on drugs and clarified that the SAFER Banking Act would create a better financial system for small and medium-sized cannabis businesses that lack access to such traditional banking services. Sen. Daines, who served as the committee ranking member in place of Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), who was in California preparing for the Republican presidential debate, shared that although he opposes legalization or decriminalization, he agreed to sponsor and support the SAFER Banking Act because it would fix the current banking system for cannabis businesses nationwide. After hearing remarks from Sens. Lummis, Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Sinema, the committee voted on the bill, and approved its passage to the Senate floor on a 14-9 vote. Senators voting in favor of the bill were Brown, Tester, Warren, Reed, Menendez (by proxy), Smith (by proxy), Warner, Fetterman, Cortez-Masto, Sinema, Van Hollen, Lummis, Cramer and Daines, and voting against the measure were Sens. Warnock, Scott (by proxy), Crapo, Tillis, Kennedy, Haggerty, Vance and Britt.
After the vote, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) thanked Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and former Republican Sen. Cory Gardner (CO) for their early efforts and for bringing the legislation and issue to the chamber’s attention and concluded that he hopes to have a robust discussion with the full Senate chamber.
With the bill out of committee, it heads to the Senate floor for additional input, discussion and potentially a vote. Majority Leader Schumer has said he intends to bring the SAFER Banking Act to the floor “with all due speed” and noted that he is committed to attaching Rep. Dave Joyce’s (R-OH) Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act and Rep. Brian Mast’s (R-FL) Gun Rights and Marijuana (GRAM) Act to the final legislation. Sen. Schumer also shared that such provisions would address the war on drugs, bolster social equity and criminal justice reform and protect Second Amendment rights for medical cannabis patients.
When the SAFER Banking Act will receive floor time remains unclear, but Leader Schumer has made numerous representations that he would like to see it done this year.
In that press conference last year, Sen. Booker emphasized the need to address social equity and restorative justice, laying out the foundation for what would soon be called the most comprehensive piece of cannabis legislation so far.
According to the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA), the bill succeeds in doing that, offering a number of provisions that would help those most impacted by cannabis prohibition, offer funding for equity programs, support for minorities in the cannabis market and more. “The CAO Act represents a giant leap forward in federal cannabis policy by outlining the most meaningful solutions to address issues facing minority cannabis businesses we’ve seen in a federal legalization bill to-date,” says Kaliko Castille, president of MCBA.
Notable provisions in the bill also include:
Removes cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act scheduling entirely.
Allows states to implement their own policies without the federal government interfering.
Allows cannabis businesses access to financial services, removes the threat of 280E tax code impacting normal business deductions.
Regulatory responsibility would fall under the authority of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Immediate expungement for prior cannabis convictions and cancellation of any sentencing for those incarcerated for cannabis.
Raise allowable THC content in hemp from 0.3% to 0.7%.
Sets up a pilot program with the Small Business Administration (SBA) for minority-owned and economically disadvantaged cannabis businesses.
High taxes: Up to a 25% federal excise tax on top of state cannabis taxes.
Update: Governor McKee has signed the Rhode Island Cannabis Act into law, making it the 19th state to legalize adult use cannabis.
In Rhode Island this week, lawmakers voted to approve a bill that would legalize and regulate adult use cannabis. The state’s legislature passed the bill with overwhelming majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The House voted 55-16 and the Senate voted 32-6 to approve the Rhode Island Cannabis Act, a bill that allows adults over 21 to possess, purchase and grow cannabis. The legislation contains a provision for automatic review and expungement of past cannabis convictions. Similar to other neighboring states, the bill also allows for allocating tax revenue from cannabis sales to communities most harmed by cannabis prohibition, such as low income neighborhoods.
Governor Daniel McKee has expressed support for the bill previously and is expected to sign it into law. According to Jared Moffat, state campaigns manager for the Marijuana Policy Project, Rep. Scott Slater, Sen. Josh Miller and Rep. Leonela Felix are to thank for their leadership in bringing the bill to a vote. “We are grateful to Rep. Scott Slater and Sen.Josh Miller for their years of leadership on this issue. Rhode Islanders should be proud of their lawmakers for passing a legalization bill that features strong provisions to promote equity and social justice,” says Moffat. “We’re also thankful to Rep. Leonela Felix who advocated tirelessly for the inclusion of an automatic expungement provision that will clear tens of thousands of past cannabis possession convictions.”
Among other provisions, the bill establishes a 10% sales tax in addition to the state’s normal 7% sales tax and 3% local sales tax. A quarter of all retail licenses will go to social equity applicants and another quarter of all licenses will be reserved for worker-owned cooperatives. The legislation also includes a “social equity assistance fund” that will offer grant money, job training and social services to communities most impacted by cannabis prohibition.
Last week, Gary Chambers Jr., a Baton Rouge native, launched his political campaign to run for a U.S. Senate seat in Louisiana. He took the internet by storm with his first political advertisement, a 37-second-long video where he advocates for cannabis legalization, discussing the disproportionate effects that cannabis prohibition has on communities of color.
But that’s not why he made such a splash on social media; the campaign ad made headlines as possibly the first major party candidate to smoke a cannabis blunt in an advertisement.
The timing of the video is also very intentional, lasting 37 seconds. “Every 37 seconds, someone is arrested for possession of marijuana,” Chambers says in the video. “Since 2010, state and local police have arrested an estimated 7.3 million Americans for violating marijuana laws, over half of all drug arrests. Black people are 4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana laws than white people.”
Chambers is running against Sen. John Kennedy, the Republican incumbent with support from Trump and very deep pockets.
ASTM International, the renowned global standards body, has established a new subcommittee, D37.92, aimed at facilitating the exchange of ideas and information between policymakers, regulatory bodies, scientists, stakeholders and the public.
According to a press release, the new subcommittee, at the request of the U.S. Senate, has provided comments on the proposed Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA). The comments including the sharing of ASTM’s work in the cannabis industry, their organization, membership information, defining cannabis terms and their published standards related to facilities, consumer safety and other areas.
The subcommittee is headed up by David Vaillencourt, founder & CEO of The GMP Collective and frequent contributor to Cannabis Industry Journal. “With a patchwork of regulations across state, federal, and international levels, this subcommittee will be valuable to industry and government stakeholders as a means to collaborate,” says Vaillencourt, current chair of the new government liaison subcommittee. “It’s really going to facilitate dialogue that will be key as we look ahead to a global marketplace in the coming years.”
ASTM has been working with the cannabis industry through their D37 committee since March of 2017. Soon after the D37 committee launched, they began crafting cannabis standards and have grown their membership and subcommittees considerably over the past few years. In August of this year, they announced the development a new voluntary, consensus-based standard, the Change Control Process Management standard. The new committee, D37.92, is currently seeking public participation in their work to develop the new standard. To learn more about cannabis committee participation and membership, click here.
Update: Governor Ned Lamont has signed S.B. 1201 into law, officially legalizing cannabis in the state of Connecticut
On June 16, 2021, the Connecticut House of Representatives voted to pass their version of S.B. 1201, a bill that legalizes adult use cannabis. Following the House’s approval of the changes, the bill made its way back to the Senate on June 17, where they approved all changes. It now heads to the Governor’s desk, where Gov. Ned Lamont is expected to sign it into law.
With Gov. Lamont’s signature, Connecticut will become the 19th state in the country to legalize adult use cannabis. The bill is slated to go into effect on July 1, just a couple of weeks away.
Come July 1, adults in Connecticut can legally possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis in public and up to five ounces at their home. The bill allows for adults to grow at home, just not until 2023 unless you are an existing patient registered in the medical program.
According to the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the bill will expunge cannabis records for low-level crimes and puts “the bulk of excise tax revenues into a Social Equity and Innovation Fund, which will be used to promote a diverse cannabis industry and reinvest in hard-hit communities.” Half of the cannabis business licenses issued will go to social equity applicants that can receive funding, workforce training and other types of assistance from the program.
DeVaughn Ward, senior legislative counsel at MPP, says the bill includes provisions to repair harm done by the prohibition of cannabis. “The Connecticut Legislature’s commitment to legalizing cannabis through a justice-centered approach is commendable,” says Ward. “For decades, cannabis prohibition and criminalization has harmed some of the state’s most vulnerable communities. This bill not only ends this failed and unjust policy, but it also includes measures that will work to repair the harm that it has caused. This state will be a model for others to follow.”
The bill includes strong protections for employees, tenants and students by limiting discriminatory actions based on positive drug tests. It also dedicates 25% of tax revenue from cannabis to go toward mental health and substance use treatment.
With the signing of the Cannabis Control Act (the Act) on April 21, 2021, Virginia became the first southern state to legalize adult use cannabis and just the fourth state to do so through the legislature. Legalizing adult use cannabis through the legislature, as opposed to through the ballot box, is not the typical route states have followed up to now. Eleven of the sixteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized adult use cannabis through the use of ballot measures. Virginia joins Vermont, Illinois, New York and New Mexico (which legalized after Virginia) as one of the few states that have gone the legislative route. Under Governor Northam’s administration, the path to legalization was swift, taking less than four months from introduction to passage.
Governor Northam added amendments to the already passed Senate Bill 1406 and the General Assembly voted to approve those amendments, with the Lieutenant Governor breaking the tie in the Senate’s vote. Upon signing, Governor Northam called the law a step towards “building a more equitable and just Virginia and reforming our criminal justice system to make it more fair.” This message and the opportunities to promote social equity through a legal cannabis industry have been consistent points of advocacy made by supporters as the bill advanced to becoming law.
Prior to the Governor’s amendments, the Act under consideration set July 1, 2024 as the date on which both legal possession and adult use sales would begin. The Governor decided to accelerate the date for legal possession to July 1 of this year, a decision believed to have been influenced by data showing that Black Virginians were more than three times as likely to be cited for possession, even after simple possession was decriminalized in the state a year prior. The regulated adult use market is still set to begin making sales on July 1, 2024; however, it remains possible that this date could be advanced through the legislature in the meantime. Nevertheless, Virginia is on track to becoming the first southern state with an operating regulated commercial cannabis market.
Creating an Administrative Structure for the Adult Use Program
This sweeping fifty-page law creates the Cannabis Control Authority to regulate the cultivation, manufacture, wholesale and retail sale of cannabis and cannabis product. The Act further lays the groundwork for licensing market participants and regulating appropriate use of cannabis; defining local control; testing, labeling, packaging and advertising of cannabis and cannabis products; and taxation. The Act also contains changes to the criminal laws of the Commonwealth. Companion to the Act are new laws addressing the testing, labeling and packaging of smokable hemp products and manufacturing of edible cannabis products. Additionally, the Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Board was created to address the impact of economic divestment, violence and criminal justice responses to community and individual needs through scholarships and grants.
While persons 21 years or older may possess up to one ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to four plants for personal use per household beginning on July 1, 2021, there are a host of regulations to be written in order to regulate the adult use market. These regulations will be the devil in the details of how the regulated market will work. Regardless, the Cannabis Control Act does establish the framework for adult use cannabis that is unique to Virginia and designed to promote and encourage participation from people and communities disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition and enforcement.
The Cannabis Control Authority (CCA) will consist of a Board of Directors, the Cannabis Public Health Advisory Council, the Chief Executive Officer and employees. The Board will have five members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the legislature, each with the possibility of serving two consecutive five-year terms. The Board is tasked with creating and enforcing regulations under which retail cannabis and cannabis products are possessed, sold, transported, distributed, and delivered. It is expected that the Board will begin discussing regulations next year and that applications for licenses for cannabis cultivation facilities, manufacturing facilities, cannabis testing facilities, wholesalers, and retail stores will begin to be accepted in 2023. Importantly, a Business Equity and Diversity Support Team, led by a Social Equity Liaison, and the Equity Reinvestment Board, led by the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, are to contribute to a plan to promote and encourage participation in the industry by people from disproportionately impacted communities.
Regulating Participation in the Market
The Act empowers the Board to establish a robust and diverse marketplace with many entry opportunities for market participants. Up to 450 cultivation licenses, 60 manufacturing licenses for the production of retail cannabis products, 25 wholesaler licenses and 400 licenses for retail stores can be granted. These numbers do not include the four permits granted to pharmaceutical processors (entities that cultivate and dispense medical cannabis) under the Commonwealth’s medical program.
In addition to the sheer number of licenses that can be granted, the Act devises a unique approach to addressing concerns of a concentration of licenses in too few hands and a market dominated by large multi-state operators. At the same time, it sets up a mechanism to capitalize two cannabis equity funds intended to benefit persons, families and communities historically and disproportionately targeted and affected by drug enforcement through grants, scholarships and loans. Over-concentration and market dominance concerns are addressed by limiting a person to holding an equity interest in no more than one cultivation, manufacturing, wholesaler, retail or testing facility license. This eliminates the ability of companies to be vertically integrated from cultivation through retail sales operations. However, there are two exceptions to the impediment to vertical integration. First, the Board is authorized to develop regulations that permit small businesses to be vertically integrated and ensure that all licensees have an equal and meaningful opportunity to participate in the market. These regulations will be closely scrutinized by those looking to enter Virginia’s regulated market once they are proposed. Qualifying small businesses could benefit substantially from the economic advantages commensurate with being vertically integrated, assuming they have the access to the capital needed to achieve integration and operate successfully. The second exception allows permitted pharmaceutical processors and registered industrial hemp processors to hold multiple licenses if they pay $1 million to the Board (to be allocated to job training, the equity loan fund or equity reinvestment fund) and submit a diversity, equity and inclusion plan for approval and implementation. Consequently, Virginia is attempting to fund, in part, its ambitious social equity programs by monetizing the opportunity for these processors to participate vertically in the adult use market.
Those devilish details of how this market will function, and how onerous compliance obligations will be, will emanate from those yet to be proposed regulations covering many areas and subject matters including:
Outdoor cultivation by cultivation facilities;
A testing program;
An application process;
Packaging and labeling requirements;
Maximum THC level for retail products (not to exceed 5 mg per serving or 50 mg per package for edible products);
Record retention requirements;
Criteria for evaluating social equity license applications based on certain ownership standards;
Licensing preferences for qualified social equity applicants;
Low interest loan program standards;
Personal cultivation guidelines; and
Outdoor advertising restrictions.
Needless to say, the CCA Board has a lot work ahead in order to issue reasonable regulations that will carry out the dictates in the Act and encourage the development of a well-functioning marketplace delivering meaningful social equity opportunities.
Much work needs to be done before July 1, 2024 to prepare for its debutThe application process for the five categories of licenses will be developed by the Board, along with application fee and annual license fee amounts. It is not clear how substantial these fees will be and what effect they will have on the ability of less-well-capitalized companies and individuals to compete in the market. The Act dictates that licenses are deemed nontransferable from person to person or location to location. However, it is not entirely clear that changes in ownership will be prohibited. The Act contemplates that changes in ownership will be permitted, at least as to retail store licensees, through a reapplication process. Perhaps the forthcoming regulations will add clarity to the transferability of licenses and address the use of management services agreements as a potential workaround to the limitations in license ownership.
Certain requirements particular to certain license-types are worthy of highlighting. For example, there are two classes of cultivation licenses. Class A cultivation licenses authorize cultivation of a certain number of plants within a certain number of square feet to be determined by the Board. Interestingly, Class B licenses are for cultivation of low total THC (no more than 1%) cannabis. Several requirements specific to retail stores are noteworthy. Stores cannot exceed 1,500 square feet, or make sales through drive-through windows, internet-based sales platforms or delivery services. Prohibitive local ordinances are not allowed; however, localities can petition for a referendum on the question of whether retail stores should be prohibited in their locality. Retail stores are allowed to sell immature plants and seek to support the home growers, an allowance that is fairly unique among the existing legal adult-use states.
Taxing Cannabis Sales
Given the perception that regulated cannabis markets add to state coffers, it is little surprise that Virginia’s retail market will be subject to significant taxes. The taxing system is straightforward and not complicated by a taxing regime related to product weight or THC content, for example. There is a 21% tax on retail sales by stores, in addition to the current sales tax rates. In addition, localities may, by ordinance, impose a 3% tax on retail sales. These taxes could result in a retail tax of approximately 30%.
Changes to Criminal Laws
Changes to the criminality of cannabis will have long lasting effects for many Virginians. These changes include:
Fines of no more than $25 and participation in substance abuse or education programs for illegal purchases by juveniles or persons 18 years or older;
Prohibition of warrantless searches based solely on the odor of cannabis;
Automatic expungement of records for certain former cannabis offenses;
Prohibition of “gifting” cannabis in exchange for nominal purchases of some other product;
Prohibition of consuming cannabis or cannabis products in public; and
Prohibition of consumption by drivers or passengers in a motor vehicle being driven, with consumption being presumed if cannabis in the passenger compartment is not in the original sealed manufacturer’s container.
These changes, and others, represent a balancing of public safety with lessons learned from the effects of the war on drugs.
The Act contains myriad other noteworthy provisions. For example, the Board must develop, implement and maintain a seed-to-sale tracking system for the industry. Plants being grown at home must be tagged with the grower’s name and driver’s license or state ID number. Licenses may be stripped from businesses that do not remain neutral while workers attempt to unionize. However, this provision will not become effective unless approved again by the legislature next year. Banks and credit unions are protected under state law for providing financial services to licensed businesses or for investing any income derived from the providing of such services. This provision is intended to address the lack of access to banking for cannabis businesses due to the federal illegality of cannabis by removing any perceived state law barriers for banks and credit unions to do business with licensed cannabis companies.
The adult use cannabis industry is coming to Virginia. Much work needs to be done before July 1, 2024 to prepare for its debut. However, the criminal justice reforms and commitment to repairing harms related to past prohibition of cannabis are soon to be a present-day reality. Virginia is the first Southern state to take the path towards legal adult use cannabis. It is unlikely to be the last.
On Friday, December 4, 2020, the US House of Representatives passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 (the MORE Act), which would effectively legalize cannabis by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act. The bill (H.R. 3884) has several key components:
Most importantly, the bill would remove cannabis from the list of controlled substances in the Controlled Substances Act, as well as other federal legislation such as the National Forest System Drug Control Act of 1986. This would effectively end many of the obstacles created by the federal illegality of cannabis such as the lack of access to banking, tax consequences such as 280E, adverse immigration impacts and threats of federal criminal enforcement.
Second, not only does the bill preclude future prosecution for cannabis-related crimes, the bill is designed to be retroactive and would provide for the expungement of past non-violent cannabis offenses.
The bill creates a prescribed excise tax on cannabis and cannabis products. The funds collected from the taxes would be channeled into opportunity and reinvestment programs.
A Community Reinvestment Grant Program would be established aimed at the provision of services for “individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs,” such as job training, education, literacy programs, mentoring, and substance use treatment programs;
A Cannabis Opportunity Program would be established providing state funds for small business loans in the cannabis industry targeted at social equity candidates; and
An Equitable Licensing Grant Program providing funds for states to implement equitable cannabis licensing programs aimed at minimizing “barriers to cannabis licensing and employment for individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.”
The bill would require all cannabis producers to obtain a federal permit. Cannabis businesses would need to be licensed at the state, local, and federal levels to operate.
This MORE Act is a substantial step in cannabis legislation. Reactions to the proposed legislation have been mixed. While the bill does include some measures aimed at social equity, critics of the bill claim it does not go far enough. Similarly, while the bill includes a federal permitting provision, this would be the beginning of a nascent federal regulatory scheme.
What does this mean for your business?
While this bill passed in the US House of Representatives, it would still need to pass in the U.S. Senate this term, which by most accounts does not seem likely. However, the passage of this bill signifies the progress that has been made and provides insight on what further legislation may look like.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a co-sponsor for the bill and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, donned a cannabis leaf mask as he presided over the floor debate in the House of Representatives on the morning of December 4. After the debate on the floor, the House of Representatives voted 228 to 164 to pass the MORE Act.
While this vote is historic and should certainly be celebrated, it is unfortunately a mostly symbolic win. During the Post-Election Analysis episode of the Cannabis Quality Virtual Conference, Andrew Kline, director of public policy at the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), told attendees that this bill always had strong support in the House, but not enough support in the Senate. “You know I think there is pretty much a 100% chance of it passing the House,” Kline said back in early November. “I don’t think they would’ve scheduled the vote if they didn’t have the votes.”
Kline told attendees that Republican priorities are most likely to blame when the MORE Act fails to get enough support in the Senate. “The bigger question is what happens when it reaches the Senate and I think it is all but dead when it gets there,” says Kline. “Mitch McConnell has been reluctant to move any legislation over the past four years. He’s really ignored most legislation and particularly any legislation he doesn’t like. He doesn’t like cannabis and it appears to me he barely even likes hemp. He’s really not even fighting for the hemp industry.”
While the MORE Act likely doesn’t have a chance in the Senate, it passing the House is still a monumental moment in cannabis legalization history. This marks the first time in 50 years that Congress has revisited cannabis prohibition, according to Justin Strekal, political director of NORML. “This is a historic day for marijuana policy in the United States,” says Strekal. “By establishing this new trajectory for federal policy, we expect that more states will revisit and amend the archaic criminalization of cannabis, establish regulated consumer marketplaces, and direct law enforcement to cease the practice of arresting over half a million Americans annually for marijuana-related violations – arrests which disproportionately fall upon those on people of color and those on the lower end of the economic spectrum.”
Along with all of the success that cannabis had on Election Day, including five states legalizing it, the House passing this legislation is a symbol of shifting attitudes toward cannabis and serious progress on the federal legalization front.
The real question that should be asked is what will the 117th Congress do? If Democrats gain control in the Senate following the runoff elections in Georgia, it could reinvigorate the momentum behind this bill and offer a renewed breath of life.
While the 2020 Presidential election didn’t exactly end up in a clear landslide victory for the Democrats, there is one group that did well: the cannabis industry.
The results clearly show that the expansion of cannabis is a recognizable part of today’s society across the United States. States like New Jersey, for example, partly thanks to New York and Pennsylvania—which already allow the use of medical cannabis—traffic will start to force the state of New York’s hand and that’s a big chunk of the population of the Northeast.
If the question of legalization was on the ballot, it was an issue that overwhelmingly succeeded in delivering a clear mandate. Adult use of cannabis passed handily in Arizona, Montana, South Dakota and as mentioned above, New Jersey, and was approved for medical use in Mississippi and South Dakota.
With only 15 states remaining in the union that still outlaw the use of cannabis in any form, the new reality for the industry is here. All of these outcomes show promise as the industry’s recognition is growing.
Election outcomes and the position of the average American on cannabis
Americans are definitely understanding, appreciating and using cannabis more and more. It is becoming a part of everyday life and this election’s results could be the tipping point that normalizes the adult use of cannabis. It is becoming more widely understood as an effective and acceptable means to help manage stress and anxiety, aid in sleep and general overall wellbeing.
This image of cannabis is aided by the many different forms of consumption that exist now: edibles, transdermal, nano tech, etc. No longer does a consumer have to smoke—which isn’t accepted in many circles—to get the beneficial effects of cannabis.
Knowledge expansion is going to move these products across state lines and eventually, the federal government will have to take notice.
Do Democrats and Republicans view cannabis through the same lens?
Cannabis is and will always be state specific. Republicans in general tend to be a little bit more cautious and there are a lot of pundits who believe that as long as the Republicans control the senate, there isn’t much of a chance for federal legalization.
There is some hope, however, that the industry will get support from the Biden administration. While President-Elect Biden has been on record as being against legalization of cannabis at a federal level, even he will eventually see that the train has left the station and momentum continues to build. In fact, Biden’s tone has changed considerably while he running for president, adding cannabis decriminalization to the Biden-Harris campaign platform.
Ultimately, how cannabis is viewed from each side of the aisle matters less than how it is viewed at the state level.
Cannabis reform under Biden
Biden had an opportunity to legalize cannabis federally in the U.S. during the Obama administration and it didn’t happen. It’s clear that the mandates of the Biden-Harris administration are going to be overwhelmed by current issues, at least in the beginning: COVID-19, the economy and climate change, to name but three.
What will be interesting is if the Biden-Harris administration goes to greater lengths to decriminalize cannabis. For example, cannabis is still a Schedule 1 drug on the books, which puts it in the same class as heroin. Biden couldn’t unilaterally remove cannabis from all scheduling, but his government could reschedule it to reduce the implications of its use.
This could, however, create more problems than it solves:
“It’s generally understood, then, that rescheduling weed would blow up the marijuana industry’s existing model, of state-licensed businesses that are not pharmacies selling cannabis products, that are not Food and Drug Administration-reviewed and approved, to customers who are not medical patients.
Biden rescheduling cannabis “would only continue the state-federal conflict, and force both state regulators and businesses to completely reconfigure themselves, putting many people out of business and costing states significant time and money,” as Morgan Fox, chief spokesperson for the National Cannabis Industry Association, said in an email on Monday.” (Source)
In reality however, there is little chance that Biden will spend any political capital that he has, particularly if the Senate remains in Republican control, dealing with the legalization of adult use cannabis.
What needs to happen for legalization to become a reality
Outside of the law, if Trump suddenly decided to legalize adult use cannabis before leaving the White House, the states would still need to agree on issues such as possession, transportation, shipment and taxation.
It’s clear that further normalization of cannabis use is required—which will likely take a good couple of years—in order for it to become as understood and as simple as wine, liquor or cigarettes.
Beyond that, it’s Congress that dictated that cannabis be illegal at the federal level and it will have to be Congress that makes the decision to change that. Even the Supreme Court has been reluctant to get involved in the question, believing this to be an issue that should be dealt within the House.
What does all of this mean for investment in the cannabis industry?
Cannabis should be part of most long-term investors’ portfolios. Like a group of stocks in a healthy market with the right balance sheets, cannabis is an expanding industry and growth is there.
Whether or not this is specifically the right time to invest, it’s always important to evaluate each stock or each company individually, from the point of view of the merits of the investment and investment objectives, as well as risk tolerance perspectives.
There isn’t any unique or special place to buy into the cannabis industry, unless it is connected to some new real estate or other opportunity that is COVID-19 related. This moment in time isn’t really any different from any other when it comes to the opportunity to own some cannabis stocks. It’s always a good time.
The short term returns of this market shouldn’t be speculated upon. There are just way more factors than the fundamentals of a company that will affect the short-term play. The country is in a transition of power, in addition to much international change taking place that can also contribute to returns in the short term, making speculation unhelpful.
The cannabis market in 2021
The cannabis industry is likely to continue to expand and grow with the select companies acquiring more and more and getting back to their cash flow. Some companies will slowly be going out of business and/or will be acquired by others going into a certain consolidation period of time. Whatever the outcomes in specific tourism dominated markets, the industry as a whole can really go in one direction.
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