Election Day in the United States often brings about some sweeping changes. This year, one of the key issues on the ballot was cannabis legalization and it’s fair to say the results were resounding. Every single cannabis-related ballot measure passed this past election day, with states like Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota legalizing adult-use.
On top of those ballot measures, however, the incoming Biden-Harris administration has the potential to have a larger impact on the legal cannabis industry in the U.S. than any other modern administration.
We’re going to break down the promises and cannabis-related policy positions the Biden-Harris administration has announced, what those moves would mean for the legal and medical cannabis industry in the U.S., and, most importantly, how those changes would impact medical cannabis patients around the country.
What Cannabis Policies Has the Biden-Harris Administration Committed To?
While it’s worth noting that Joe Biden was the only Democratic Presidential candidate who refused to even consider the idea of full, federal cannabis legalization, he has committed to one key aspect of cannabis reform. To quote the man himself, “Nobody should be in jail simply for smoking or possessing cannabis.” That means, at the very least, decriminalization is on the docket.
While decriminalization of cannabis might seem like a small step for many, it’s actually a very important step when looking at the big picture. As the legal cannabis industry in 11 states and U.S. territories generates tens of millions of dollars a month, even in the midst of a pandemic-induced economic recession, over 660,000 people were arrested for cannabis in 2018 alone. Thankfully due to decriminalization efforts since then, 2019 saw the first dip in cannabis-related arrests in four years.
While 26 states have either decriminalized or removed the threat of jail time for possession of small amounts of cannabis, that’s nowhere near enough for a nation that incarcerates more than 2 million people annually, many of which are for drug-related, non-violent infractions. Ironically, many of those infractions led to long jail time due to Biden’s own 1994 Crime Bill, the heart of the on-going but slowly dying “War on Drugs.”
With recent polling showing that seven in ten Americans support expunging cannabis convictions, it’s likely that many will see their records wiped clean and freed from prison thanks to the Biden-Harris administration’s change of heart.
While the promise to decriminalize cannabis and expunge prior low-level convictions didn’t show up on a recent criminal justice reform plan on the incoming administration’s transition website, Biden staffers assured reporters that “nothing has changed” in regards to their plans to decriminalize.
Nationwide decriminalization would be a step towards normalizing cannabis as medicine and de-stigmatizing it for the average American.
Kamala Harris, the Vice President-elect, is much more in favor of cannabis than Biden. Harris, a former Senator from California, spoke openly and often about the need for drastic and comprehensive cannabis policy reform, was the lead sponsor of a bill designed to federally deschedule cannabis, and has doubled down on her support of decriminalization in a recent interview with ABC News.
It’s worth noting that if Joe Biden, a former Vice President himself, treats Harris like President Obama treated him, she’ll play a key role in shaping policy decisions in the U.S.
How Does a Biden-Harris Administration Impact Medical Cannabis Patients?
The incoming administration is positive news for the cannabis industry in general, and medical patients are very much included in that mix. Even though the Biden-Harris administration is far from the most progressive of the Democratic options in 2020, they’re much more open-minded than the Trump administration when it comes to cannabis.
Lawmakers all across the country are already making the push for legalizing medical cannabis in their state for 2021. Here’s what’s happened in last few weeks:
- The Governor of Virginia has called for expanding the state’s medical cannabis program along with recreational legalization
- Texas lawmakers are eyeing legalization as a way of boosting the economy and creating jobs
- Pennsylvania’s Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General all doubled down on their previous support for legalization.
On top of that legislation that’s already on the table, 2021 could be the year where New York finally breaks down and legalizes cannabis, giving the East Coast a possible cannabis market that could compete with California.
More recreational legalization is great news for medical programs. States that legalize recreational use tend to establish medical programs shortly afterward, if not at the same time like South Dakota just did. Nearly 70 percent of Americans are in support of legalization and, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, states are looking for a way to create jobs, generate money to balance out decimated state budgets and help ease the anxiety that comes with looming 2021 lockdowns. Legalizing cannabis for recreational and medical use is a great way to do all of those things and we’ve seen that when cannabis is on the ballot, it’s consistently a winner.