Marijuana advocates seriously eye federal legalization after election

US marijuana reform

Federal marijuana legalization could be only months from becoming reality, spurring Washington DC-based MJ advocates to seriously consider a “post-prohibition” world as they map out political strategies for 2021.

Several DC-based nonprofits and trade associations predict a bill to federally legalize marijuana could pass Congress in the near future – but only if Democrat Joe Biden wins the White House and his party controls the Senate and the House of Representatives.

If that occurs – and it’s not a sure bet – the move could become a game changer for the national marijuana industry.

“If the Democrats do a clean sweep, then descheduling with interstate trade is definitely within the realm of possibility,” said Randal Meyer, the executive director of the Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce (GACC).

Descheduling is akin to the cannabis holy grail.

It would simultaneously:

  • Legalize marijuana federally.
  • End the 280E tax restrictions.
  • Open banking access.
  • Allow for interstate and international cannabis trade.

“Descheduling unlocks everything else, including banking, relief on 280E, everything,” said Steven Hawkins, the executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “It’s a rock that kills three birds.”

How it could play out

Meyer, a former staffer in the office of Kentucky Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, predicted the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act “would be the primary vehicle” if the Democrats do take the White House and the Senate, in part because it’s already teed up in the House this year.

While legalizing marijuana federally by removing the plant from the federal Controlled Substances Act, the MORE Act would allow states to continue to choose how to regulate a commercial MJ industry.

federal marijuana reform, Marijuana advocates seriously eye federal legalization after electionSpokespeople from multiple other trade organizations working in Washington DC echoed Meyer’s MORE Act prediction.

But many questions remain, and much could change depending on the election.

If, for instance, Republicans retain control of the Senate or the White House, then the fallback plan for many groups is to focus on piecemeal bills such as the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act.

That legislation would enable financial institutions to serve cannabis-related businesses without fear of federal punishment.

But should Democrats win big on Election Day, the next question – after the presumed passage of the MORE Act or legislation close to it – would become the regulatory framework.

“Cannabis is a food, a drug and a cosmetic. And under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, something cannot be a food, a drug and a cosmetic, by law. So we’re in a very difficult regulatory place,” Meyer said.

But, Meyer added, a solution already exists.

GACC issued a 66-page draft of a bill that “ends cannabis prohibition and creates an all-encompassing regulatory framework” that:

  • Allows states to take the lead.
  • Also allows the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to oversee interstate marijuana trade.

The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) issued a 48-page white paper touting a similar approach, arguing that a “‘one-size-fits all’ regulatory framework would be ineffective.”

“My goal is to turn this into legislation, because you need a regulatory structure. You look at California’s example. If you get the regulation wrong, you don’t get the outcome you intended,” NCIA lobbyist Mike Correia said, referring to a California cannabis regulatory system that has resulted in a booming illicit market, high barriers to entry for entrepreneurs and skimpy profits for legal operators.

“If we don’t (get this right), we’re going to have 50 Californias out there, and that’s the last thing we want,” Correia added.

Some plans still in the works

Other stakeholders, such as the National Cannabis Roundtable (NCR) and the Cannabis Trade Federation (CTF), are still discussing strategy with members and haven’t chosen a particular approach or bill they want to prioritize next year yet.

“Step One is trying to get folks on the same page,” said Steve Fox, strategic adviser to the CTF.

“At this point, it’s really more a matter of hearing from everyone and seeing what stakeholders think and determining where there’s consensus around the policies that are needed.”

Saphira Galoob, a principal at The Liaison Group, which lobbies on behalf of the NCR, said her priority for 2021 is the SAFE Banking Act.

She noted House Democrats have included it in their latest coronavirus relief package. (That bill has not yet received any notable support or a vote in the GOP-controlled Senate.)

And NCR is in the process of finalizing a regulatory proposal that it will likely present to Congress and the industry, Galoob said.

But, she cautioned, the federal regulatory process will be tricky, with many issues to weigh amid differing opinions from member companies based on where they’re from or how their businesses are structured.

“We’re in the process of finalizing a proposed federal framework that will lead with priority principles,” Galoob said.

“It’s not an uncomplicated landscape. And it’s not one route that gets you from end to end. And you’re also balancing that folks from California see the rollout differently than folks from the Midwest.

“When you’re balancing industry interests, it’s a little more complex than just a one-stop approach.”

Division in the ranks?

There’s also a question of unity behind reform proposals given differing views over interstate commerce, industry insiders said.

Multiple sources, for instance, said some multistate operators had worked to amend the MORE Act in favor of a more restrictive federal paradigm that would maintain marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 drug.

That would prohibit interstate commerce and protect market share for companies that already dominate their state industries.

Justin Strekal, the political director of NORML, is vocal about that divide.

“Unfortunately, some of the focus by industry actors is protecting the limited market access that currently exists over ending federal marijuana criminalization,” he said.

Strekal said his focus is to protect marijuana consumers first and business interests second.

“There are times when those interests – and the interests being advocated by certain industry actors – do not overlap and are actually in conflict,” Strekal said in a possible foreshadowing of a political showdown between MSOs that want to protect their turf and others who prefer a wide-open national market.

But Strekal and others – including NCIA’s Correia, CTF’s Fox, NCR’s Galoob and MPP’s Hawkins – said they hope to work hand-in-hand as much as possible to present a united front to Congress on marijuana reform.

“The more the industry and other stakeholders are able to speak with one voice about what will be optimal, the more likely we’ll be able to influence Congress in an effective way,” CTF’s Fox said.

John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]

11 comments on “Marijuana advocates seriously eye federal legalization after election
    • Johnnie Womack on

      Now as for me I think that we should have the president legalize cannabis. In June 2020 Colorado reported monthly sales at 158,000,00.00. so my idea is to barrow the money from the treasury department and then add a fed tax that will pay back the loan an focus on the fed deficit. Based on the numbers the monthly sales times 52 states and territories. 7,800,000,000.00 in sales every month adding a .12%fed tax of this income. Giving the US a revivable of 11,232,000,000.00 in tax income that will go directly to stimulus repayment. This would not only get the vote of those needing money but also the Cannabis users vote anyway thank you and God bless your talent and good heart of sharing

  1. Jeffrey Hudson on

    Wow, my past days naivete seems really comforting right about now. The numerous cannabis legalization efforts underway need to concentrate their efforts first by identifying consumer interests and second by identifying business interests. It’s worth noting that consumer interests should be in the driver’s seat because without them the business interests have zero legitimacy.

  2. TOP DOG on

    If cannabis is, it will be because we forced legalization. Trump is an Authoritarian that swallows every law enforcement lie hook-line-and sinker.
    The same goes for Bidden. Both Authoritarians. Both anti- American. Count me out. I refuse to vote for either but instead vote to remove both. I stand ready for the Civil War. Whatever it takes to get these parasites out of office. I oppose all professional politicians. Enemies of liberty, justice, and freedom. They deserve to be hung from the neck as traitors to the citizens. I certainly will not vote for them. I do, however; oppose both.

    • LEE ROLLER on

      So how does that make a difference? Abdicating your voice altogether. What you are advocating is petulant and amounts to nothing more than pouting. Sit on the sidelines and mope or at least work to make the outcome of a bad situation as good as possible.

      I’m not passionately in favor of either candidate but the system has given us two choices. One of them is going to hold great sway over what happens to you and I.

      I for one want at least a voice in who ISN’T in the White House. If you want to leave it to everyone else to decide for you, that’s your choice too. But do not kid yourself. You HAVE made a choice.

      • Joe on

        Advocate for what you believe and don’t let other convince you of their own failures. This is not leaving anyone to decide for him, he is right; the system is flawed broken and unfixable in its current state, you would be better of building a machine to run for president than trust the two fools running.

        One day we wont have to worry about the corruptness of a government only the corruptness of our own minds.

  3. demitri downing on

    Industry groups would be wise to align themselves with groups like Norml who favor more of a free market approach. We have already seen way to much lobbying to protect Local and state level interests accross the United States. What this does is quickly creates a protected class, artificial barriers to entry for Minorites and women as well as prices that are unnecessaryly higher for consumers. Sounds like Randal Meyer, the executive director of the Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce (GACC) is on the right track.

    This is the title fight of lobbying and people will be advocating some nuanced subject matter. Let’s hope the lobbyists put the interests of the free market first above even their own relevance!

  4. Chris Cahill on

    Consumer interests and free market point to cannabis products by big alcohol, tobacco and pharma control. That will lower prices, get cannabis on shelves AND kill the small businesses, especially those that victims of the war on drugs could start, with the exception of some liquor store-type dispensaries that they won’t want to run. Be careful what you wish for as consumers and business opportunity are definitely not aligned.

  5. Andre Leonard on

    I see a lot of good first step and some missteps here. Fact is marijuana legalization needs to occur but there are 5 members of the Senate that have not allowed it to occur.

    If Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, Lindsey Graham, Mike Crapo and Jim Reish are removed from office, when they take the vote both the Senate and the House of Representatives will have enough votes to remove cannabis from the Schedule 1 drug list.

    What is sad is that it has taken so long and that so many states have had to undertake their own legalization laws to do what Congress should have done but could/would not.

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