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Predicting Politics In The Cannabis Legalization Debate

www.forbes.com July 30, 2021
Predicting Politics In The Cannabis Legalization Debate

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 14: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) (C), joined by Sen. ... [+] Cory Booker (D-NJ) (L) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), speaks at a press conference on introducing legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition at the U.S. Capitol on July 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Senate Democratic leader is introducing The Cannabis Administration And Opportunity Act, which will remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances and begin regulating and taxing it at the federal level. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

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When Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas calls the federal government’s approach to cannabis policy a “contradictory and unstable state of affairs,” you know the calls for reform have reached the highest levels. But for many of us in the industry, we weren’t surprised by this timely statement from what some may consider an unlikely advocate for federal policy changes.

That’s because the cannabis industry is used to seeing government officials, on both sides of the aisle, support their state’s cannabis industry at different points in the legalization process. While it’s easy to assume Democrats are pro-legalization and Republicans are anti-legalization, recent history shows us politics can shift after a state legalizes cannabis. Often, the shift makes it more palatable for elected officials to extend a cooperative hand across the aisle. It is not uncommon for a conservative elected official to oppose legalization because they see it as criminal activity, and then reverse course after their state legalizes to support fewer regulations for cannabis businesses. Conversely, a liberal elected official might champion legalization on the basis of social and criminal justice reform, while later advocating for comprehensive regulations for cannabis businesses due to public health concerns.

When it comes to traditional political wrangling, predicting an elected official’s cannabis policy stance can be counter intuitive. It has defied party lines, and in many ways, risen above the hyper partisan politics of other topics like immigration, health care, and voting rights. But depending on the issue area focus of legalization, members of a given party may not agree on the best path forward.

Most recently – and for the first time in our country’s history – the Senate Majority Leader, a Democrat, unveiled a framework for legalization alongside two other Democratic Senators. But President Biden said even if a full legalization bill made it through Congress and to his desk he might veto it. And in his first 200 days in office, President Biden also prevented Washington D.C. from starting an adult-use cannabis market by withholding federal funds.


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