The Democrats are on the clock. How far can they push cannabis reform while they control both houses of Congress?
This conversation in itself wasn’t even in the orbit of the cannabis industry a few months back. But the industry quickly came to terms with the potential of what it could mean – Vice President Kamala Harris had sponsored the Senate version of weed’s biggest congressional win yet.
We woke up on Wednesday, Nov. 4, with most Americans agreeing Joe Biden would be president in a few months. But in addition to that, cannabis woke up with a whole new level of hope. Sure, the party that championed most of the recent success cannabis had seen now controlled the executive branch, but what was happening in Georgia?
As excited as we were for Joe Biden to have the opportunity to right some of the wrongs from his previous contribution to the drug war, minds quickly turned from Biden and Harris’s admittedly strange weed journeys to the U.S. Senate election runoff in Georgia.
Less than two weeks ago, we found out Biden would take office with the democrats controlling both houses of Congress, and then last Wednesday, it all came to reality. So where do we hope to see things go?
Sure, there is some nation fixing and pandemic stuff at the top of the list, but as we move back to something a bit more normal than our recent life experiences, where do we want to see the Democrats take it when it comes to reforming our nation’s cannabis laws?
Here are some boxes we’d love to see them check off while they have the power.
Get Them Out
As we saw with the last round of pardons from former President Donald Trump, there are plenty of nonviolent cannabis offenders still behind bars as the value of the U.S. cannabis market continues to jump by billions of dollars every year. President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice should look to prioritize a full review of those cases with the intent of releasing as many cannabis offenders as possible.
The DOJ should also dedicate resources to coordinating the mass expungement of cannabis convictions state-by-state to help as many people as possible. As Code for America has proven in their expungement work, the DOJ assisting in creating a mechanism that can work in various states with light tweaks is not beyond the realm of possibility. This should be the top priority because these men and women won’t get these years of their lives back but the dollars will still be there for the industry in the end.
So much of our cannabis headache as Americans is a direct result of the federal government treating marijuana as a dangerous substance with zero medical value. Yes, despite all the years of glaucoma, cancer and AIDS patients living a better quality of life that’s been documented time and time again, this is still the case. That’s not even getting into the CBD entourage effect we’ve learned a lot more about over the last decade. At this point, leaving marijuana as a schedule one narcotic is a proven detriment to all involved. It makes patients criminals, creates a disproportionate criminal justice vacuum for communities of color, and erodes faith in community policing strategies by creating negative experiences with law enforcement over something that would be completely legal in so many places if not for the Controlled Substances Act.
In this moment, banking may be the most bipartisan cannabis effort you could get through both houses quickly and to Joe Biden’s desk. One of the reasons banking access is so important is because it really would help out the little guy. These giant corporate weed entities send a few Chads to Panama (or wherever) to whip up offshore financial institutions to use. Sure, they get hit one by one as the feds catch on to the ruse, but the company just ends up losing credit cards or something for the day and they’re on to the next one. Mom and pop farmers don’t have these kinds of resources. Many smaller cannabis operators who have survived to this point each have about 20 stories about losing a bank account and the stress of searching for the next one. Not to mention proper financial services would make it a lot easier for the states to collect their weed money.
Providing a fair shot in the industry for the communities most disproportionately impacted by cannabis laws in America is critical. The idea people from communities devastated by weed laws don’t deserve the best shot possible in this new legal industry is insulting. Even worse, some just hate the idea of equity in the form of retail permits being protected for people who have suffered the worst under weed laws because they see it as the competition getting an edge. The haters tend to not be from those communities and have never spent time in a cell themselves. The only reason I put equity after banking is that I think creating mechanisms for equity applicants to be successful is critical too, and I think it will make it easier for those businesses to make it. Hopefully the Biden administration will mandate equity at the federal level to cut back some of the drama we’ve seen in implementation at the local level. Sometimes equity programs have proven a scapegoat for officials and permit holders in municipalities where the cannabis programs are generally a mess. The feds taking the lead would pull the rug out from those excuses.
One of the most common arguments against weed in recent years was formed around the lack of research. While the Democrats are in control, it is absolutely vital they open up the floodgates to cannabis research. If they maintain the status quo, the old talking points will remain. If they don’t go hard now, they could lose Congress in a couple of years without a lot to show for it. Then we would be back to this holding pattern of the little bit of mids being grown at UMiss going to researchers all over America. Biden should order the DEA to approve the million-dollar facilities sitting in holding patterns waiting for the right to grow research-grade cannabis. Some of the built-out facilities have been waiting years for DEA approval after jumping through the hoops they needed to just to apply. Opening up the supply chain is the best thing Joe Biden can do for cannabis research in his first 100 days.
Immediately following the federal government coming to terms with marijuana having medical value, VA doctors should be allowed to prescribe it and write recommendations for medical cannabis. While the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has come a long way on pot in recent years, there is still work to be done. Especially given the immediate benefit being seen by veterans using cannabis to cope with the physical and psychological toll of their service.
As the Democrats work under Joe Biden to move cannabis policy forward, they need to make sure they are changing the laws for everybody. Many times, when we talk about cannabis now being legal, we forget it’s not technically possible for everyone to smoke it legally. Public use tends to be illegal across the board and cannabis lounges are few and far between across the U.S. at this point. Where are people who don’t own their own property supposed to consume cannabis? Mechanisms that allow every tax bracket to use cannabis are critical or we’re just creating new penalties that will be enforced disproportionately in the same communities that were getting screwed in the first place.
Real Organic Pot
There is a lot of organic lingo flying around the cannabis industry and a ton of different programs have come and gone over the years certifying pot as clean. The USDA should be empowered to bring organic commercial cannabis farming under their umbrella. This would just standardize everything and give the term organic weed a lot more weight in a retail setting.
Lay the Groundwork for Interstate Commerce
My biggest pipe dream is that the Democrats will get the ball rolling on interstate commerce enough that it will be unstoppable regardless of what happens in the midterm elections.