At this moment, 11 American states and Washington, D.C. now have adult-use cannabis legislation law on its books. When it comes to medical, 33 states have passed regulations. Additionally, 24 states and the country’s capital decriminalized marijuana in some form or another.
With over half of the United States passing cannabis legislation, some wonder if federal action could be on the horizon.
It can be easy to write off the possibility of any change in 2020. A long-held belief posits that little to nothing of significance happens during election years. With politicians off on the campaign trail garnering support, legislation tends to take a back seat. More so, politicians may hold off on casting any votes for fear of upsetting citizens so close to a vote.
A drop in Congressional attendance during election years does appear to be true. Though, there is a case to be made that finds legislation getting done even while away from Capitol Hill. In addition to history serving as a possible indicator, a flurry of activity in early 2020 may lead to further action concerning cannabis, both marijuana and hemp.
The MORE and SAFE Acts
With the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, proponents hope to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act. The MORE Act aims to create equity programs to support those most affected by the drug war and expunge low-level cannabis records as well.
In recent weeks, the measure received a boost of support in the form in two forms when long-time anti-cannabis advocate Joe Kennedy III signed on to the Act as a cosponsor.
Meanwhile, cannabis businesses and banks have anticipated some change concerning the status of banking for some time now. Under current regulations, companies can’t bank with institutions like other industries. The situation leaves marijuana ventures exposed to theft and other crime as it handles its revenue in an all-cash, unsecured setting.
The Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act hopes to resolve this manner. Its solution includes allowing financial institutions to do business with the cannabis industry while not having to fear any federal consequences. Additionally, the Act contains parameters that would protect legalized states’ markets from federal prosecution.
The SAFE Banking Act has made progress through the House but now finds itself stuck in the Senate Banking Committee, where Idaho Senator Mike Crapo heads the committee. Crapo is currently considering an amended version of the bill, which makes restrictions to the Act, notably a 2% THC potency cap. Recently, the Chair received letters pleading from lawmakers and industry groups that Crapo consider the passed version of the Act. Otherwise, the market could see new rounds of banking and regulatory headaches.
Current issues aside, lawmakers tell the media they remain optimistic about the SAFE Banking Act, while the MORE Act requires additional steps to be considered realistic at this time. Despite the longer road ahead, the MORE Act seems like a possible passable measure, according to Nebraska-based criminal defense lawyer Seth Morris. Though, the Berry Law Firm lawyer believes that the MORE Act, or any marijuana legalization bill, almost assuredly won’t pass in 2020.
That said, Morris said that the MORE Act is the direction federal lawmakers are headed. Morris explained the rationale, chalking the decision up to a rights issue. “Removing cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act treats marijuana like alcohol, and leaves it up to the states and federal territories to determine whether or not they want this substance to be legal.”
The lack of action on the two bills gives Brandon Wiegand, regional general manager for The+Source dispensaries in Las Vegas, a negative outlook for legalization prospects this year.
The retail manager touched on another substantial cannabis bill moving through Congress, the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act. If passed, cannabis legalization would be recognized on the federal level, as well as those states that have passed such laws.
“Congressional bills like the STATES Act and SAFE Banking Act that enjoy widespread, bi-partisan support have not been passed, and those are less contentious topics than federal legalization,” Wiegand explained.
Such bipartisan support could possibly erode quickly as well. Tensions between the two ruling parties in America have fractured at a staggering rate in the modern era. Since the Clinton impeachment trial, tensions have boiled and simmered over time through Bush Jr. and Obama. Now in a post-Trump impeachment Congress, no one is quite sure if lawmakers will play ball with anyone across the aisle.
Even before the impeachment proceedings, cannabis legalization was becoming increasingly partisan, according to Benton B. Bodamer, an attorney with Dickinson Wright’s Cannabis Practice Group. Bodamer called the political ideology divide as “one of the biggest obstacles to a viable federal approach.”
One issue Bodamer highlighted as a likely point of partisan friction will be social equity. “Social equity is one of the most important and divisive pieces of the national legalization debate,” explained Bodamer.
The legal professional believes states should be able to choose an appropriate structure for themselves. However, federal inclusions could prove to be a significant stumbling block. Bodamer forecasted, “National legislation will almost certainly fail if a perfect social equity solution is a precondition.”
The attorney also called out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as a pivotal roadblock. “Simply put, 33 states supporting medical cannabis are not enough. Forty-nine states would not be enough until a state called Kentucky has medical cannabis,” Bodamer said of the Senator’s home state.
“If the Bluegrass State embraces medical cannabis, we will have a national path to legalization within six months from that date. That could be as soon as the end of 2020, or first half of 2021,” the legal professional predicted.
While McConnell has not endorsed marijuana, the Senator was a crucial component in progressing hemp legislation as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. Regardless of the Majority Leader’s support, cannabis needs to be maintained across the aisle sponsorship. The rise in political infighting could affect scores of other bills in progress at the nation’s capital. They include several measures, including two legalization bills, which were heard in front of a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.
Despite any political fighting, the public demands action. If all proved positive for the cannabis community, over 40 states could pass some form of legalization come Election Night 2020. Several candidates have already laid out plans for executive orders and policy agendas. In a recently leaked video, President Trump could be heard saying cannabis banking was “working out” despite spouting tired anti-cannabis health claims.
Barring a significant change in the air, 2020 won’t be the year federal legalization or substantial progress comes to fruition. That said, the winds of change are blowing strong, and many experts believe that breeze will carry the aroma of legal cannabis with it soon enough.