Will Weed be Federally Legal in 2021?
We survived 2020 and now that the light at the end of the COVID tunnel can be seen, our nation’s lawmakers can get back to tackling other non-pandemic issues. This couldn’t have come at a better time considering (and much to everyone’s surprise), the US has a trifecta of blue in the White House, Congress, and Senate. As a side note, you should take a timeout to thank any of your friends in Georgia who voted in the special run-off election. The results of this race flipped the senate majority from republican to democratic, thus paving a new way for federal cannabis reform. Let’s take a look at the chances that weed will be federally legal in 2021.
Why the Senate Race Mattered
Prior to the senate run-off election in Georgia, the US senate held a republican majority. This placed Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as the Senate majority leader. This sole position gets to decide what the rest of the Senate hears in terms of voting on new laws. McConnell has a longstanding track record of shooting down the possibility for the Senate even getting to vote on any cannabis legislation. Even as recently as December 2020, McConnell “celebrated” the fact that the latest COVID relief package didn’t contain any language permitting cannabis businesses to have access to bank accounts.
The tides have turned though! With Georgia’s late shocker of a win for democrats, McConnell is no longer the majority Senate leader and as a result, no longer has any say in what proposals the Senate hears and votes on. It is believed by many that this was one of the final straws prohibiting federal cannabis reform.
We’re All Blue, Now What?
In early February of this year, the new Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer (alongside additional senators) stated that they [Schumer, et. Al.] intend on pushing legislation this year (2021) that would result in federal cannabis prohibition finally coming to an end! Of course, this is 21st century politics that we’re dealing with so as much as we want to remain optimistic, there is always the chance of new hurdles.
It is widely thought that were cannabis reform to be presented to the Senate for voting, it would receive the support needed to pass. If you’re skeptical of this, consider the fact that in December 2020, the House passed a bill (228-164) in favor of removing all federal penalties on cannabis as well as removing portions of criminal records involving cannabis-related “crimes”. If you recall from your high school civics course, once the House votes and passes a bill, it is then presented to the Senate for voting. This is where we were running into issues the past several years because no matter the bill that passed the House, McConnell (R-KY) saw to it that the Senate was never even presented the bill to vote on, thus no movement on cannabis bills. Until now!
Although the bill that passed the House did so during a time where McConnell was still serving as Senate majority leader (so of course the bill was dead on arrival at the Senate), it still signaled that the House was ready to change gears on the federal prohibition of cannabis. With Democrats now holding majority voting power in all three facets, there is no reason we should see a 2021 cannabis bill be blocked.
How Will 2021 Actually Play Out for Federal Cannabis Reform?
We try to remain as realistic as possible when predicting how situations like this will pan out. As always with US politics, there are many moving parts in this equation, but nearly all of the possible outcomes are positive (note: we didn’t say ALL).
Support in the House, Senate, and White House is no longer an issue unless a democrat who previously supported cannabis decides to go rogue and vote against it (this is not likely to happen). This means the next step involves deciding what exactly the powers are going to vote on. In other words, what is the final wording of the proposed bill and how will it be enacted and enforced? As you might be aware, many of the final bills that go through the system are hundreds, sometimes thousands of pages long and everyone is going to work to slip in their own verbiage.
The big question now is what the proposed cannabis reform bill will look like. Although there is broad support for full-fledged cannabis legalization and descheduling at the federal level, there are rational fears from some supporters that a federal cannabis bill could fall short of expectations. For example, some folks believe democrats will slow roll cannabis reform progress into next year (2022) as a way of garnering additional votes during next year’s mid-term election cycle. Others believe that there’s a possibility that the finalized bill will be constructed in a conservative manner, one that could leave the decisions “up to the states”. If this were to happen, conservative red states like South Carolina are not likely to adopt any new policies regardless of the federal stance. There is also the thought that a new bill could take the light approach of federally decriminalizing cannabis. While this may sound like a golden ticket, it is far from the case. Decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level would leave states open to continue prosecuting individuals at the state level. This would also do nothing for regulation of the industry which would mean the black market would thrive and there would be no way to ensure your bud was safe to consume. Additionally, decrim would not generate tax revenue for states, something they could all use after last year’s roller coaster ride.
Grab Some Popcorn
We can’t promise this process will be fast or painless, but at least we are finally in a position to move forward. If you’re a supporter of this movement (and if you aren’t, what are you doing here in the first place?), you should understand that letting your state representatives know you support cannabis reform is more important now than ever before. We are at the finish line that has been nearly 100 years in the making. Welcome to the (almost) future, friends!