As with many industries in the United States, the future of the cannabis industry may very well be determined by the November election. The next steps for the industry will not be determined by the results of the presidential race, but the Senate race.
In today’s Republican-held Senate, the cannabis industry’s best hope for progress has been the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2019 (or the “SAFE Act”), which would allow state legal cannabis business to work freely with banking institutions. The Act puts in place safe harbors from federal money laundering and regulatory issues for banks dealing with the cannabis industry and would therefore open up banking for the entire industry, allowing it to take another step toward legitimacy in the eyes of the federal government. More importantly, passage of the SAFE Act allows the industry to grow and flourish with the assistance of the banking industry, which is fundamental to continued growth.
The SAFE Act is an incremental step forward, which is vital when dealing with Congress; nothing happens overnight in Washington D.C. This is especially true when talking about an industry with a War on Drugs-sized stigma attached to it. However, the main argument against the SAFE Act is that it’s just that: incremental; a half measure when a full measure is called for. That brings us to the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (the “MORE Act”).
The MORE Act includes many sweeping provisions, starting with the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances act (which would decriminalize cannabis on the federal level, allow states to set their own marijuana policies, and free any U.S. marijuana companies of their tax code 280(e) designation). It would also cause for incentivization for states to expunge low-level cannabis convictions, and create a federal tax on marijuana which would fund the newly created Opportunity Trust Fund, which is meant to assist groups which historically have been disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs. In my time dealing with federal lawmakers, a sweeping reform act such as the MORE Act has been described to me as a “Democratic Pipe Dream” with little hope of passing the Senate with its current membership.
However, the Senate’s membership is set to change subject to the November election results. Many political pundits (Politico, Forbes, NY Times) believe that the Republican-held senate could be vulnerable to falling into the Democrats’ hands, changing the political landscape for the next few years. As such, the cannabis industry’s federal fight could abruptly pivot from incremental steps forward like the SAFE Act to the MORE Act’s sweeping cannabis reform. This switch would mirror a recent PEW Research Center’s finding that an overwhelming amount of Americans believe marijuana should be legal for medical or recreational purposes (the full study can be found here).
While I appreciate the value (and current necessity) of an incremental, strategic approach to federal reform of the cannabis industry, the best-case scenario for the industry moving forward would be a Democrat controlled Senate in November. This will allow the cannabis industry to push for full-fledged reform of federal cannabis laws, moving the industry forward at a rate which would be impossible under our current incremental approach. Right now, the cannabis industry in America is poised to be a massive boon (Forbes Cannabis Industry Projections), helping to create jobs and opportunities for millions of Americans. With the right help from the federal lawmakers, that dream can become a reality much sooner than expected.