With Neither Candidate All Too Keen On Cannabis Reform, Where Does Marijuana Go Next?

by Andrew Ward

Over the years and especially in recent months, both President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden have indicated their reluctance toward legalizing cannabis at the federal level. However, a growing majority of citizens disagree with the two candidates. Growing citizen support is coupled with a burgeoning market projected to near $37 billion in retail sales by 2024

Though neither candidate appears to be pro-cannabis, some believe that one or both could offer their support as the market attempts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. With both candidates being pro-business, cannabis may be an ideal answer for owners and job seekers alike.

While working in the hypothetical for now, reality is fast approaching for the candidates and cannabis. With so much uncertainty in the weeks, months and years ahead, it is best to step back and analyze what Trump and Biden have said and done about marijuana so far. 

Does Either Administration Support Cannabis Legalization?

Neither Trump nor Biden has shown much support for cannabis. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering their pasts. Both Trump and Biden avoid drugs and alcohol themselves after seeing addiction ravage their families. While uncertain how much family history impacts the decision either makes, their activity over the years indicates that neither is very fond of reform at this time.

President Trump’s first term in office has seen its share of anti-marijuana activity. In 2020, leaked audio from two years ago revealed that Trump believed the narrative that cannabis use makes people less intelligent. In more direct action, the administration proposed ending protections for legal state marketplaces earlier in 2020.  

Biden’s anti-cannabis and pro-law legislative history entangles the Vice President from pivoting toward legalization. That, however, isn’t to say that Biden won’t consider cannabis legalization at some point. In recent months, he has doubled down on statements calling for the decriminalization of cannabis, which would allow for additional studies in the U.S. Under this model, Biden would seek more conclusive data to back the growing findings from lab studies and anecdotal sources.  

While neither has indicated a change in their stances, factors beyond their personal beliefs could shape the conversation. Jessica Billingsley, CEO of cannabis compliance technology company Akerna, told Green Flower that both candidates are pro-business. “COVID’s impact on the economy, particularly at the state level, should make this an easy issue for many if not most elected officials to get behind as the general public already has.”

How The Vice President Factors Into The Equation

The beliefs of the candidates could be reaffirmed or challenged by their running mates. President Trump has and will likely never receive any pushback from Vice President Mike Pence on cannabis reform. Pence, an ardent conservative and religious person, does not support legalization in any capacity with a track record to back it up. 

Kamala Harris, on the other hand, offers up a shifting perspective on the matter. Unlike Pence, Trump or Biden, Harris’s political career began on a pro-cannabis platform. However, that support was for the medical market alone. Her opposition would continue in 2014 despite support from the opposing candidates. She would also challenge the 2016 ballot initiative to legalize adult use in the state.    

Harris began to pivot on the matter publicly in 2017. That year, Harris would become a Senator. She would co-sponsor the SAFE Banking Act that year, and the MORE Act in 2019. In addition to co-sponsoring pro-marijuana bills, Harris introduced and endorsed other bills aimed at rescheduling cannabis and protecting housing rights for those seeking federal assistance. 

In 2019, while campaigning for the nomination, Harris joked about her Jamaican heritage and smoking marijuana in college. Her father, Donald, voiced his disappointment over her humor and association of cannabis use with the family name. 

Akerna’s Billingsley stated that Harris’ shift on cannabis policy indicated her ability to accept new information and evolve with its findings. “She will likely be an important part of any action taken by the Senate either during the lame-duck if the GOP loses the Senate, or beyond if Biden-Harris win the White House.”

A track record of changing minds has already been established in the Biden camp. The Vice President is credited with forcing President Obama’s administration to come around on same-sex marriage in 2012.

Recent Activity From Both Camps

With no clear indication of what a Trump or Biden presidency will do on cannabis, one might be inclined to look at recent activity to form their conclusions. 

President Trump’s administration spent 2020 appearing to double down on its anti-cannabis stances. In June, Attorney General Bill Barr testified in front of the House of Representatives over allegations that the AG authorized reviews of 10 cannabis industry mergers based on his political leanings and anti-cannabis views.

More recently, Trump aides Kellyanne Conway and Rudy Giuliani set their sights on Harris’s time as California’s AG and the roughly 1,500 cannabis convictions made under her term. Giuliani went so far as to claim Harris was smoking marijuana while authorizing the arrests and convictions, including misdemeanors. No evidence was offered up to support his claim. 

Meanwhile, a union for the New York Police Department (NYPD), which has its history of disproportionate cannabis arrests, made a rare Presidential endorsement for Trump. 

Meanwhile, the Biden camp could see its cannabis image repaired slightly by Harris and her pivot in recent years. That said, not all are convinced, noting Biden’s decriminalization plan is not what’s needed for today. Those voicing concerns include pro-cannabis Representative Earl Blumenauer, who reported that Biden is evolving on the matter as the two discuss it further. However, Blumenauer added that Biden must embrace the legalization more.

Rep. Blumenauer went on to emphasize why Biden must pivot. “For the campaign to talk about decriminalization is essentially meaningless,” he said.

Despite the uncertainty, Billingsley sees growth for cannabis regardless of who wins. 

“Over the next four to eight years, the cannabis industry will continue to grow,” said the CEO. “With many states looking to cannabis to close economic gaps left by the Coronavirus, the prevailing political winds are supporting the cannabis industry’s efforts, and the state of the economy and employment should speed up broader legalization.”

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