Cannabis reform is firm on the legislative agenda with the Democrats back in the White House and controlling both Houses of Congress. The extent of these reforms, however, remains uncertain. So, what can we expect during the next four years?
As a Senator, Biden had a “tough on crime” reputation during the ‘80s and ‘90s. But time has made a difference. During the Presidential campaign, Biden made it clear that his administration would view cannabis reform positively. Yet, we need to be realistic. There are much more urgent and serious issues on the President’s desk to deal with right now. Cannabis is not a top priority.
A federal legalization of medical cannabis is possible, but not for recreational adult use. The 117th Congress is more likely to advance a federal decriminalization of cannabis and a modest rescheduling. It will still be up to state legislatures to decide what happens in their jurisdictions beyond that. In this context, it is important to note that also during this election numerous counties and states voted for legalization of medical and recreational use of cannabis. In total, 15 states have now either enacted or have voted to enact adult-use legalization laws, while 36 states have either enacted or have voted to enact medical marijuana access laws. This will undoubtedly impact political decisions down the line.
New leadership is also expected at the FDA. This should usher in the long-awaited acceptance of CBD as a dietary supplement with very limited health claims. A new piece of legislation has been introduced to this effect, but it could take some time before the bill passes. In any case, federal recognition of CBD as a supplement will further erode legislature opposition to cannabis and boost favorable public opinion even further. We can also expect more openness to medical cannabis research by academia and healthcare institutions without fearing federal sanctions for doing so.
The Biden administration is expected to support increased industrial hemp cultivation since the plant, as identified by the USDA, can siphon off carbon from the atmosphere. This sits well with Biden’s determination to advance an eco-friendly economic and global agronomic policy focused on carbon capture, sustainability, and plant-based economics.
In conclusion, under the Biden Administration cannabis reform will move more slowly than what many would like to see and too quickly for those still opposed. There will be a gradual easing up on restrictions, backed by ever higher levels of public support, fueling even more industry growth. But right now, there are more urgent issues requiring the President’s attention in the Oval Office.