This article by David Hodes was originally published on The Bluntness and appears here with permission.
Cannabis legalization efforts in Congress have been a series of hits and misses during the Joe Biden administration, even as Congress juggles more cannabis-related bills than ever before. There are currently 35 cannabis-related bills in Congress—26 in the House, nine in the Senate.
The foot-dragging on cannabis legalization wasn’t the plan when Biden got elected. Many industry stakeholders expected a slam dunk on legalization when he took office.
The pre-election thinking was that Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris would finally take cannabis off the DEA’s Schedule I list, open up banking, fix disparities in the cannabis business environment so that everyone could get a piece of the pie, and end the war on drugs for good.
Well, it hasn’t quite worked out that way… yet.
The Biden Hope
When the Biden administration took over in January 2021, there was the expectation that legalization efforts in Congress would accelerate. After all, Harris admitted to smoking cannabis during a radio interview in February 2019 (“It gives a lot of people joy. And we need more joy in the world.”).
An article in Forbes magazine in August 2020 written by the president of an investment and operations firm in the legal cannabis industry, Kris Krane, appeared to double-down on Harris’s influence: “If elected Vice President, she is arguably reformers’ best hope of moving Joe Biden and the Democratic Party towards a position of full support for cannabis legalization.”
Harris is also the co-sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act of 2019 (S597), which has gained no traction in Congress; she is the lead sponsor of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement Act (The MORE Act, HR3884), considered one of the most comprehensive cannabis legalization bills passed by the House in December 2020 (five Republicans voted in favor of the bill) that was recently re-introduced in the House; and she was the co-sponsor of the original Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (the SAFE Banking Act, HR1996), which passed in the House in April, 2021 and now sits in the Senate. That bill enjoys the bipartisan support of 180 co-sponsors in Congress.
Both Harris and Biden have evolved their thinking about cannabis legalization in a good way over the years.
Before being elected senator in 2016, Harris oversaw over 1,900 cannabis convictions as the San Francisco district attorney.
Biden, as senator and head of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, helped craft plans for the war on drugs, calling for an escalation of what President H.W. Bush had proposed in September 1989: “Quite frankly, the president’s plan is not tough enough, bold enough, or imaginative enough to meet the crisis at hand,” …