Amid talks of a deep recession, social unrest, and the global pandemic, cannabis legalization continues to be a relevant topic in the United States. While COVID-19 hampered many cannabis legalization and decriminalization efforts in the short term, criminal justice reform and social equity remain a driving force that keeps cannabis legalization at the forefront; it has been top of mind in states such as Illinois, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Virginia. As states continue on the road toward decriminalization and legalization, it’s important to take a look at where things stand at the federal level. With support for legalization stronger than ever, is marijuana decriminalization/legalization a prominent issue in the upcoming 2020 election?
In his recent discussion of cannabis reform, U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) remarked that democrats are ready to advance cannabis reform as soon as they have a majority in both chambers of Congress. Obtaining control of Congress would be a feat, but of course anything is possible. Senator Markey commented that when it comes to cannabis, he and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a contender for Vice President on the Democratic ticket, are “confronted with this obstinate, obdurate opposition from the Trump administration.” Despite that obstacle, Sen. Markey remains confident, “I think we’ll have votes to just move it, and the science has moved there.” However, appetite for legalization from those running for the nation’s top job isn’t strong as President Trump and the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, indicated an opposition to adult-use legalization. There might even be a splintering within the Democratic party on this issue. According to PoliticoPRO, several high-profile Democrats voted against adding marijuana legalization to the Democratic party platform last Monday.
Perhaps the country’s precarious economic situation can change this outlook for whomever is ultimately in charge. “I think what’s going to happen on so many issues is that Congress is a stimulus-response institution, and there’s nothing more stimulating to what’s happening out there—on climate change, on cannabis. After this election we need to move on these policies and have our own 1933, our own New Deal,” Sen. Markey pronounced. One need only look to the states to support this proposition—Oklahoma, Colorado, and Illinois have maintained record-breaking sales in recent months despite the pandemic and recession. As we discussed on our blog, Oklahoma’s medical sales hit $74 million in May. Likewise in May, Colorado dispensaries sold more than $192 million. Illinois retailers continue to set new records seemingly every month, hitting a high of $61 million in total sales in July. Since going live with adult-use in January 2020 (a mere seven months ago), Illinois has brought in $52 million in tax revenue from marijuana sales. And circling back to the criminal justice reform/social equity issue, Illinois is allocating 25% of that tax revenue for communities most impacted by mass incarceration and the war on drugs, another 20% on substance abuse and mental health, 8% to local crime-prevention programs, and the rest will go to the state’s general fund.
For now, it appears cannabis reform at the federal level will remain stagnant, but those in the cannabis industry know that things can change rapidly. Let’s see what happens leading up to and after November 3, 2020.
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