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What Could Cannabis Reform Look Like Under the Biden Administration?

By Marguerite Arnold

Published: Nov 25, 2020   
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With the Biden transition team already making moves to remove some “progressive” voices in his closest inner circle, what is likely to happen, realistically, on either a state or federal level in the United States over the next four years on cannabis reform?

Recreational reform is not likely until (at least) after the midterms

Luckily for everyone tired of partisan infighting, cannabis is a remarkably non-political issue these days. But decriminalization, which was on the election platform, is likely to be the only compromise position until 2022. Given the deadlock in Washington that is likely to continue long past the runoffs in Georgia’s senate seats in January, this timeline is the most optimistic version of any progress.

After the midterms, depending on how desperate the economic situation is domestically, further legislation may be added to the second Biden term agenda.

Until then, look for advancements in state markets, as well as new flips by either legislative or voter mandate.

Cannabis coverage and banking under BidenCare

No matter how they position themselves on forward reform on the recreational side, there are other issues that will be front and center as the Biden White House assumes residency of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The first is the overall medical efficacy of cannabinoids. This is undeniable, no matter what the WHO decides to do or not. The conversation in Europe will also drive this discussion forward now internationally.

This then also means that insurance companies, particularly the kind covering veterans and lower income people, will be faced with the idea of mandatory cannabis coverage. On this, the US may take a cue from Germany. That said, given all the problems the average German still faces obtaining underwritten cannabis coverage, this is not necessarily a good thing.

However, what it does mean is that there will be an undoubted move to adopting good manufacturing policy production, particularly in places like California, as well as the associated ability to ship the same across the country (as well as internationally).

Along with that will undoubtedly be some attempt to reform the state of cannabis banking, which, along with decriminalization, may be bipartisan enough to have a chance through the Senate.

The federalization of the CBD industry

Given the federal attention given to hemp so far, it is not farfetched to believe that, as a compromise to reform activists, the administration could support a hemp reform bill, which could also be the route through for any banking reform.

The hemp industry is still the much safer “reform” path to tread for all establishment political types. As such, this kind of bill, including one with greater safeguards for consumers, may also be the most likely vehicle for such reform to pass.

The problem with these kinds of initiatives on Capitol Hill is that they are not urgent enough to stand on their own outside of committee. And their schedules, no matter the post-Covid adoption of digital attendance, will have to compete with many other issues.

Expect, then, that, unless sponsored by those with a desire to see something more urgent come to pass, no fast action on this issue either.

State reform

Thanks to the election of 2020, one third of Americans live in a jurisdiction where cannabis is now legal (or soon will be after the state sets up a local infrastructure).

It is very clear that by the next presidential election activists will be focusing on making sure that further recreational reform will pass at a state level where it is has not so far.

Given that the greatest support for such reform is in cities, the same places that the Democrats in particular are finding support at the ballot box, it makes sense that this would be an organizing issue for the next several years that will also bring out exactly the vote Democrats are hungry for. However, this is not a given unless the administration finds a way to support the minority cannabis industry. And that, beyond decriminalization and banking reform, also means federal reform.

Other issues

Discussions about including cannabis in any green reform bill will have to pass all Republican objections to the “green” part before any cannabis enters the room. But this, at least on the hemp side, is not entirely beyond the realm of discussion.

And, depending on how badly the US economy continues to suffer from post-Covid hangovers, recreational trials could be run on a federal level in states where full reform has also come.

On the testing front, there might be a renewed interest in running large trials beyond California, particularly as France is mandating one such experiment during the first quarter of next year. However, this would require funding from the federal government. And that is a big if given other more pressing issues.

Special interventions beyond this, such as working with the Department of Justice to curb cannabis related arrests and the Department of Housing and Urban Development on issues like evictions based on possession, are also highly unlikely as an executive project. Even here, major reform, particularly given the apparent desire of the Biden camp to work with Congress and not around it, is highly unlikely.

Ultimately, the best course of action for forward reform on all these issues is continuing to support state campaigns for legalization. Once the majority of the population of the country is in states where reform has passed, there will be forward motion from federal legislatures.

Marguerite Arnold is a journalist and author. Her next book, Green II: Spreading Like Kudzu, about the inside story of the German cannabis cultivation bid, will be published on December 1, 2020.

Marguerite Arnold

Cannabis Entrepreneur, Author and Journalist

Marguerite has covered policy and business developments in the legal cannabis industry for several publications, including Analytical Cannabis, High Times, and the Cannabis Industry Journal. Her second book about the cannabis industry, Green II: Spreading Like Kudzu, was published in 2020 and tells the inside story of the first German cannabis cultivation tender bid.


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