Cannabis in the 2020 Election: All Eyes on the U.S. Senate

By Steve Fox

Oct 26, 2020

This is the first in our series of articles exploring the impact of the 2020 elections on the cannabis industry. This November 3, in addition to presidential and congressional elections that will have a major impact, five states have ballot measures that will legalize marijuana in some form. This post takes a look at cannabis legalization on the federal level.  

For supporters of cannabis policy reform, there is plenty to watch during the current election. For starters, there are cannabis-related ballot initiatives in five states, featuring initiatives to legalize cannabis for all adults in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota. Medical cannabis measures will appear on the ballot in Mississippi, as well as in South Dakota, where advocates placed both measures on the ballot. It is expected that there will be many victories to celebrate on November 3.

We will also be paying close attention to the presidential election. Although the Trump administration has respected state cannabis laws over the past four years, we expect that a Biden-Harris administration would be even more supportive of cannabis policy reform and would bring about greater progress. The Democratic vice presidential nominee, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), underscored this during the recent vice presidential debate, when she made it a point to pledge that the Biden-Harris administration would decriminalize cannabis and expunge the records of those convicted for cannabis-related offenses.

As significant as a change in administrations would be, the most significant battle—at least in terms of reforming cannabis laws at the federal level—is over control of the U.S. Senate. Simply put, if the Republicans maintain control of that chamber, cannabis will not be legalized in the next two years. But if the Democrats can win control, then the opportunity will exist. That is not to say that it is guaranteed, but it will be on the table.

Currently, progress on cannabis policy reform at the federal level has been hindered by Republican control of the Senate. A prime example is the SAFE Banking Act, which passed the House with strong bipartisan support in 2019, but has gone nowhere in the Senate. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID), despite initially indicating that he would hold a vote in committee before the end of 2019, later put the brakes on the bill. That said, the bill is still alive and could be passed as part of a larger package of legislation. Credit, though, would go to House Democrats for pushing for it.

Based on experience to date, we cannot expect that Republican leadership and committee chairs in the Senate will move cannabis-related legislation. On the other hand, the top Democrat in the Senate, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), is the lead sponsor of a bill that would deschedule cannabis. He also tweeted that it is time to “decriminalize marijuana.” (We would prefer that he use the term “legalize,” but we will let that slide for now.) With the Democrats in the House already demonstrating interest in moving broad cannabis policy reform legislation in the form of the MORE Act, we can expect a Democrat-controlled Senate to be receptive to such a push.

As of now, the Democrats are favored to take control of the Senate. Will they? We will soon find out. Then, we’ll help bring you up to speed on federal and state-level election results and how they affect the cannabis industry at Vicente Sederberg’s Post-election Opportunities in the Cannabis Industry webinar on November 19. Register here!

Read part two in the series for New Jersey cannabis insights.


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