Just a few years ago, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris could have been, and often were, labeled cannabis prohibitionists. Now they may be a key piece to cannabis legalization.
Biden, for instance, was a straight-up drug warrior up through the 1990s, and Harris has a history as a fierce prosecutor of drug crimes. Today they are poised to lead major reforms of cannabis laws, possibly including outright legalization at the federal level.
As the final days before one of the most momentous elections in U.S. history tick away, it's looking more and more likely that the Democrats will not only retain the House, but also retake the White House. It appears increasingly possible the Senate will also turn blue. If that happens, reform of federal cannabis laws—possibly including full legalization—might happen much more quickly than many people now think.
Investors might be ahead of the curve on this one. Examining cannabis stocks, Viridian Capital Advisors this week said stock-pickers seem to have already “priced in” a Democratic victory on Election Day.
But it makes sense if some people are still pessimistic, or at least skeptical.
Harris refused to endorse California's Proposition 64, which legalized adult weed use in 2016. As a prosecutor, she oversaw more than 1,900 convictions of people accused of possessing or selling weed—more than her predecessor. Biden, meanwhile, was for decades an outspoken opponent of cannabis reform. More recently, he's said some off-the-wall stuff about cannabis being a “gateway drug” that leads to people using harder drugs (a notion that has been repeatedly disproven).
They each had reasons for their previous stances: Harris because, at the time, she wanted to burnish her “law and order” credentials. She was, after all, the chief law enforcement officer of San Francisco, and then California’s Attorney General. Biden leaned that way because he's 287 years old and therefore raised to believe that marijuana was a dangerous drug.
Biden, like Harris, now supports decriminalization, and it seems likely that if Congress were to vote for full legalization, he would sign the bill because both members of the Democratic ticket have changed their tunes recently.
That's especially so for Harris, who is now outright strident in her support of reform. She has sponsored or signed on with legislation to decriminalize weed, and she sponsored the SAFE Act in the Senate, which, if passed, would allow banks to do business with legal cannabis companies without fear of legal liability.
But neither the SAFE Act, nor any other meaningful reform, has been passed thanks to Republican obstruction in the Senate, despite the fact that such bills generally receive bipartisan support. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Mike Crapo, the Idaho Republican who heads the Senate Banking Committee, have refused to bring the SAFE Act to the Senate floor. There, even now with a Republican majority, it would have a good chance of passing.
That's why, assuming Biden and Harris take the White House, the fate of the Senate will determine the fate of cannabis reform, or at least the speed by which it is enacted.
Meanwhile, states continue the slow march of legalization.
Every time voters in a state approve legal weed, it puts that much more pressure on Congress to act. This year, voters in four states will decide whether to approve adult-use legalization: Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota. Polls generally indicate that majorities favor the measures.
The trade publication, Marijuana Business Daily, this week broke down the 35 Senate seats that are being contested, concluding that if the Democrats take control of the chamber “the business outlook for cannabis companies could be significantly different this time next year.”
The same is true, of course, for cannabis users. Even those in legal states might find prices coming down if various federal restrictions (such as on banking and federal taxes) are lifted. Marijuana Business Daily notes that in several races, reform-minded Democratic candidates are members of key Senate panels, in particular the Banking Committee.
Election observers who had almost universally said Republicans had the edge in the fight for control of the Senate have in recent months started to call the chances at about even, and some even give the Democrats a slight edge.