What Does a Democrat-Controlled Senate Mean for Federal Cannabis Policy Reform?

After Democrats secured the majority in the U.S. Senate following the Jan. 5 Georgia Senate runoff election, many in the cannabis industry are undoubtedly wondering how the shift in power might affect federal reform efforts.

“The Senate flipping from red to blue is a huge green light for cannabis policy,” Melissa Kuipers Blake, an attorney with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, tells and Cannabis Dispensary. “[Incoming Majority] Leader [Chuck] Schumer has long been an advocate of cannabis reform, particularly the MORE Act, and we expect him to act on comprehensive cannabis reform in the coming year.”

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According to Kris Krane, founder and president of 4Front Ventures, the parent company of Mission Dispensaries, the Democrats taking control of the Senate “changes things completely.”

“It’s an entirely different calculus now in terms of what we can get accomplished at the federal level than it was just a few days ago, when it looked like we’d be looking at the prospects of the Biden administration and a Republican Senate,” Krane tells Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary.

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With a Republican-controlled Senate, Krane says passing the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act appeared somewhat likely, and while the legislation’s efforts to increase the industry’s access to banking would be a welcome change, significant, long-lasting changes in federal law seemed out of reach.

Now, with Democrats at the helm of a unified government in Washington, Krane says the industry has a chance at real federal reform, possibly for the first time ever.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has indicated that he wants to make cannabis legalization a priority, Krane says, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been historically receptive to reform efforts.

The House passed the SAFE Banking Act as a standalone bill in 2019 (and again as part of a COVID-19 relief bill in May), and also approved the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE Act) last month to federally deschedule cannabis.

“I think we now have a possibility for major federal reform, including descheduling and legalization, that we’ve frankly never seen before,” Krane says.

These descheduling and legalization efforts are likely to include social equity and social justice provisions, Kuipers Blake adds.

“It’s important to remember the social equity component of cannabis reform, which the Democrats have made a priority, and we don’t expect that to change,” she says. “So, there’s also an opportunity for cannabis reform to be coupled with criminal justice reform.”

However, according to Krane, it remains to be seen what legislation like the MORE Act and SAFE Banking Act will ultimately look like in the new Congress.

“I think the MORE Act is going to be the basis for whatever type of comprehensive reform the Democrats want to push,” he says. “That said, I don’t know … if the bill that does end up getting pushed and getting passed will be the MORE Act as it’s currently written.”

Lawmakers may spend more time fine-tuning the details of the

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