Experts suggest if US House flips, federal cannabis reform could follow

Prospects of federal marijuana reform – and the growing fortunes of cannabis businesses – could become more of a reality if the U.S. House turns over to a Democratic majority in the Nov. 6 elections, industry experts predict.

Cannabis proponents believe if the House breaks the deadlock on federal reform, the Senate will follow because it recognizes that the majority of Americans favor legalization.

“If Democrats are in charge (of the House), I think the momentum will be unstoppable,” U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, said last week during a media conference call as he unveiled a blueprint for action.

However, cannabis reform might not happen right away.

While Democrats winning the House makes reform more likely, “it’s the people in leadership who have the power … and whether they want this to get done sooner or later,” cautioned Douglas Berman, an Ohio State University law professor who writes about marijuana policy.

Take Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Republican is embracing hemp, but “the sense is that McConnell isn’t keen” on marijuana reform, Berman noted.

And don’t underestimate the influence of President Trump or U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions if he stays put, Berman said.

Trump suggested he “probably” would support legislation allowing states to decide whether MJ should be legalized without federal interference, such as through the STATES (Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States) Act.

Sessions, however, is staunchly anti-marijuana.

Berman and others said one of the most intriguing things to watch is whether Trump dismisses Sessions and, if so, whether his replacement has a more favorable view of marijuana.

Here are other factors to consider as the Nov. 6 elections get closer:

1. What are the chances Congress will go to the Democrats?

Some say it’s a pretty good bet the House will flip to the Democrats – a 6-in-7 chance as of Oct. 22, according to, which makes probability forecasts based on polls and key indicators.

The Senate? As of Monday evening, only a 2-in-9 chance.

2. Even if the House doesn’t flip, could marijuana reform get a boost?

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (no relation to Jeff Sessions) has been a thorn in the side of reform and blocked a number of marijuana bills from reaching the floor.

But Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, is in a toss-up race and could lose his seat, as could other key Republican committee chairs. Pete Sessions also is term-limited in serving as House Rules Committee chair, although that rule could change.

“I think we have an excellent chance of passing the STATES Act no matter who controls the House,” said Neal Levine, chief executive officer of the Cannabis Trade Federation.

Levine notes the legislation has sponsors from both parties and support from President Trump.

“I don’t think we’ve ever been in a stronger position to pass a really vital, functional piece of legislation on the federal level,” Levine said.

The STATES Act would amend the federal Controlled Substances Act to allow each state to determine its own approach to marijuana legalization. And it would allow state-legal businesses to enjoy the same banking arrangements and tax benefits as any legal business in the United States.

Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), agrees the STATES Act “could receive serious consideration regardless of who’s in control of the House or Senate.”

But Tvert also acknowledged legislation could be challenging to pass, even if the House flips to Democrats.

3. If not the STATES Act, what reform is most likely?

“The big question is whether a robust, multifaceted legalization bill could pass or whether it would be smaller bills,” said Rob Kampia, founder of the Marijuana Leadership Campaign which, among other things, has worked to unseat Pete Sessions.

Even if the House flips, Kampia said he could see Democrats playing it safe. For example, they might support medical marijuana on a federal level but not necessarily recreational marijuana.

That makes sense to A. Lee Hannah, an assistant professor of political science at Wright State University in Ohio.

Hannah has analyzed how the narrative about MMJ evolved over the years, from reports about potential benefits for cancer patients, to helping those with opioid addiction, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder.

If one looks at states as the laboratories of democracy, Hannah said, “now that you have had 22 years of being in a lab and the sky hasn’t fallen, you could definitely see a scenario” of Congress supporting medical cannabis first.

California was the first to legalize medical marijuana in 1996.

4. What other bills could get attention?

Tvert mentioned two measures that might be easier to pass than a comprehensive legislative package:

  • The SAFE Banking Act, which would protect financial institutions that offer services to legal cannabis businesses.

Sure, a Senate panel prevented the bill from moving forward this summer, but it does have 19 co-sponsors in the Senate. And a similar measure in the House has 95 co-sponsors, Tvert noted.

“It can be framed as a public safety issue,” he said, referring to evidence that all-cash businesses are more susceptible to violent and financial crimes.

If the House passes the legislation, senators could go for it “without feeling they are proactively supporting marijuana legalization itself,” Tvert said.

  • The Small Business Tax Equity Act, which is designed to allow marijuana businesses to take the kinds of tax deductions that other companies can.

That’s a bill that “certainly could see momentum,” Tvert said.

5. Could Trump use marijuana reform to his advantage before the 2020 elections?

Berman, the Ohio State law professor, views marijuana legalization as a possible campaign centerpiece in a number of swing states come 2020.

For example, states such as Arizona, Florida and Ohio all might have a recreational marijuana initiative on their 2020 ballots, Berman noted. Those states combined could be critical to winning the presidency.

He offered this scenario:

Trump and the Republicans take a slow walk on cannabis reform until late 2019 or early 2020, then agree on, say, legalizing medical marijuana federally – leaving adult use up to the states. Republicans then try to seize credit, and the wind is taken out of the Democrats’ sails.

(Click here to get more election coverage.)

Jeff Smith can be reached at [email protected]

19 comments on “Experts suggest if US House flips, federal cannabis reform could follow
  1. carol foulds on

    This article is untrue . The Dems and the Deep State are involved in drug trafficking. They don’t wanna safe legal alternatives to opioids. Trump has stated that he will legalize pot and Trump keeps his promises.

  2. Brett Von Bergen on

    Carol Foulds should be instantly dismissed for her opinion and comment, anyone who touts “Deep State” and being synonymous with Democrats is obviously unhinged and out of touch with the REAL issues. Keep reading your Fake News.

  3. Brett Von Bergen on

    Carol Foulds, remember Oliver North, Iran/Contra scandal, and Rick Ross? Power at the time was in the Republican’s court. Never saw so much coke coming into the country through the CIA and governmental agencies. If anything BOTH parties are tied to contributing to the FAILED drug war. Time to smarten up! As dubious Trump would say. Secondly, Trump most definitely does not keep his promises if you’ve been paying any attention, which seemingly you aren’t.

  4. Celeste Wilkinson on

    Congressman Dana Rohrabacher already said cannabis reform is coming. It’s weird that MJ Biz refuses to cover these stories.

    Rohrabacher tells FOX Business that the Trump administration has made a “solid commitment” to fix marijuana regulation.

    • Lawrence Goodwin on

      Respectfully, Ms. Wilkinson, it appears as though you do not read Marijuana Business Daily. By simply using the search tool, anyone can see that more than a half-dozen articles have appeared here in the last 12 months about the noble efforts of Mr. Rohrabacher and other lawmakers in the U.S. Congress.

      Still, as this publication’s name indicates, its focus is on the “business” stories being generated by legal cannabis, not so much the political developments (except in how they relate to nationwide commerce).

      Trump has no choice but to Make Cannabis Great Again. Not next year, or before the next election. Yesterday! After 80 years of anti-“marihuana” misery imposed on our nation by Democrats and Republicans alike, we Americans have good reasons to demand the immediate and full utilization of these fascinating plants for commercial purposes.

      The federal Schedule I “marihuana” law is the real crime, so we must accept nothing less than its complete and permanent repeal. Thomas Jefferson admitted that cannabis is “of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country.” We have every right to realize his very bold vision.

  5. Ralph Machesky on

    I think if one uses LOGIC they will see that legalization IS coming, regardless of what political parties say or experts ‘think’. With the legalization of HEMP being grown in hopefully all 50 states (if possible) that greatly increases the chances that cannabis (not the the slang word they use) will be fully legal within 5 years time. How? Any pilot or experienced FLIR operator will attest that from the air, HEMP and cannabis fields are indistinguishable from one another. The gov and DEA in particular does NOT have the funds to go around busting legal growers of HEMP and the subsequent lawsuits that follow. Jeff Sessions as AG is on his way out the door for not prosecuting the criminals in DC and his replacement will also be closely watched. I’m no ‘expert’ but am associated with the industry in many ways, so I do pay attention to all factors, not just those of one party.

  6. David on

    There are over 160 reasons for legalized mj anyone against it is not considering the healthy cures that are present. The main reason i am pro mj is the taxable attributes. This is a replacement or cure for heroin and cocain addiction which is non taxable. People on pot are non violent. They don’t do violent crimes. There are hundreds of millions of dollars in nonlegal states being realized by illegal sales which are nontaxable. There are many states who have budget issues on a yearly basis which could be resolved with the legalization of pot. Sincerely.

  7. Brett Von Bergen on

    I definitely wouldnt say that logic means legalization is coming, it has to be passed by law at a federal level which takes both parties. At best hemp will be reassessed, but cannabis probably will not be given the AG, current administration, and conservative republicans. MJ Biz has covered Rohrabacher articles, just none of them hold any water as of yet with little commitment from Trump. The States Right Act could ameliorate some of this, but would be up to individual states to approve-which isnt blanket legalization. Best bet, still vote Democrat if you want to see this issue move forward.

  8. John R. Calvert on

    Jeff . . . I have always said that mjbizdaily does a great job in covering the Cannabis Industry, but this is certainly not one of those occasions. The overwhelming comments to your article herein are right on point. Best that you get your facts correct and stick to reporting the Cannabis Business where you belong and don’t try to play the role of a “second guess” political journalist. The core of the America people will let their voice be heard loud and clear come mid-term election day – scare tactics aside. Best

    • Logan Bishop on

      What are you disputing? You clearly have not been reading the news if you don’t know Jeff or Pete Sessions view on cannabis and how much control they have. Pete blocks any bill from getting through his committee. Just cause your side isn’t on the right side of history here, doesn’t make it any less true. I’ve worked in the business for 3 years, and I can guarantee you this guy is spot on and this is exactly what will happen if the Dem’s retake the house. There are plenty of Dem’s that are not pro-cannabis, but that number is dwarfed by the number of GOP that are against it. And this guy is right, if the GOP embraces legalization, they will pretty much destroy the Dem’s in 2020, but until they do, this is an issue that favors the left. Your party affiliation doesn’t change that fact, as much as you wish it did.

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