Four months ahead of the 2020 presidential election it seems like progress towards reforming federal cannabis laws will remain in the same holding pattern it’s seen in recent years, no matter what happens in November.
One of the most bipartisan issues of the forthcoming runup to Election Day, for those who don’t magically disappear from the voter rolls between now and November, is the fact that November’s winner doesn’t seem like he’ll be that great on pot, but he could be worse.
While Biden is most closely associated with being the center-left wing of the war on drugs for decades, the Trump presidency will be remembered as a weird time for cannabis without a doubt. The industry originally started handing out paper bags for hyperventilating once Jeff Sessions took the reins at the Department of Justice. Trump ended up tugging his leash on Sessions after the former Attorney General began his preparations to strike the legal cannabis industry, when the president protected state-legal cannabis providers in full compliance with state law. The confusing incident happened three days after California’s legal market opened. Sessions would soon resign eleven months later amid a wider shitstorm.
From there we entered this weird pause with no progress at the federal level, yet thankfully not too many people getting their doors kicked in. While there were certainly some major enforcement operations against cultivators in San Bernardino and the Emerald Triangle in recent years, there are a lot fewer people getting locked up. This was clearly seen in the California Department of Justice’s latest numbers: felony arrests in California are down from 13,300 in 2014 to 1,181 last year, but enforcement seemed more racist than ever.
However, things took a turn for the Trump administration this week as the Drug Enforcement Administration subpoenaed documents about marijuana companies and owners from the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control. From the look of the scoop by Marijuana Moment’s L.A.-based associate editor Kyle Jaeger, the feds are collecting information on certain legal cannabis businesses, dating back to 2018.
With the way the timeline looks, it would seem they are targeting folks that attempted to make a buck on both sides of the market, the $3 billion regulated one and the $8 billion underground one.
What will happen there is still a bit of the mystery, but it certainly looks like it is going to suck for somebody.
This brings us back to the situation we’ve been in since Sessions left:, a kind of holding pattern for progress. a lack of movement on the banking access front, cutting off desperately needed research, and leaving nonviolent cannabis offenders languishing in prison while others make millions in the legal market.
We reached out to the experts to get their take on the current Trump/Biden conundrum for cannabis:
Mason Tvert helped lead the effort to legalize cannabis in Colorado for a decade and is one of the absolute OGs of the game in any state. He is now a partner with industry players VS Strategies. He chatted with us about what the positive cannabis reformers are taking away from Biden’s promises.
“It’s disappointing that Biden still has not expressed support for fully ending cannabis prohibition, but the recent platform released by his task force with Sen. Sanders includes several promising positions regarding cannabis and broader drug policy,” Tvert told L.A. Weekly.
A unity task force has been conceived by the Left to provide recommendations on how to mend the internal damage of another rough primary season. These recommendations include:
- Decriminalize marijuana use and legalize marijuana for medical purposes at the federal level.
- Allow states to make their own decisions about legalizing recreational use.
- Automatically expunge all past marijuana convictions for use and possession.
- Lift budget rider blocking DC from taxing and regulating legal marijuana and remove marijuana use from the list of deportable offenses.
- Encourage states to invest tax revenue from legal marijuana industries to repair damage to black and brown communities hit hardest by incarceration.
At the time Tvert and his comrades at VS noted they were disappointed by these recommendations – many in the industry were – but they think it is worth noting that these recommendations go further and offer more details than any cannabis policy proposal ever put forth by a major party presidential nominee.
“If you compare it to his [Biden’s] record in Congress, it suggests his views have shifted quite a bit in the right direction,” Tvert said, “For example, the platform acknowledges the country’s continued over-reliance on the criminal justice system and favors treatment and other harm reduction interventions over incarceration when it comes to addressing substance abuse and addiction.”
Tvert believes voters have reason to be skeptical, but they also have reason to be hopeful.
“If Biden wins in November and lives up to this new platform on criminal justice and drug policy, there may also be room for him to continue evolving on cannabis legalization,” Tvert said.
The National Cannabis Industry Association believes that in the end, both candidates will be able to find personal value in supporting reform, as it could end up swaying critical voters.
“I think neither candidate has an ideal position on cannabis policy, and neither really like the issue, but it seems like both could be movable on it given the right incentives and if advocates use the right levers,” NCIA’s Media Relations Director Morgan Fox told L.A. Weekly, “Trump has made some positive statements regarding policy but has some misconceptions about the plant itself. He’s certainly not making the issue a priority at this point.”
Like Tvert, Fox was glad Biden has shown that he’s willing to evolve on the issue in pretty short order and has a lot of people around him that support descheduling and other sensible reforms, but Fox is sure he has his share of misconceptions as well.
“Given that making cannabis legal for adults is a policy that has more public support nationally than either candidate, I think whoever has the better position before the election can expect to see a few percentage points added to their column in the popular vote, and in this election that could make all the difference,” Fox said of the stakes in November.
But Fox admits he thinks it is unlikely that either candidate will make this a centerpiece issue since it is relatively low on the priority scale even among people who support legalization.
“I think it’ll be interesting to see what cannabis ballot initiatives do to turnout in the states where they will be on the ticket in November, and how that could impact the presidential winners in those states,” he said.