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The Biden administration was never expected to be an eager leader in the cannabis reform movement.
However, with over 90% of Americans believing that pot should be legal for medical use and 60% supporting recreational use, it is fair to ask when or if the Biden administration will take action on the matter.
That answer could come sooner rather than later with Congress making incremental progress such as when the House reintroduced the MORE ACT, which historically passed during the previous session. Meanwhile, the Senate introduced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which recently closed its public comment period.
Biden Standing Firm On Cannabis Position So Far
While some in the industry had a degree of confidence as to what Biden may do if legislation ever reaches his desk, it appears now that just about anything is possible.
However, Biden is sticking to campaign promises about the plant and more recent press statements could provide an idea as to his potential actions.
On April 20, 2020, Biden press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated the President's support for states' rights, medical legalization and rescheduling cannabis as a Schedule II substance for additional research. Psaki also added that Biden's position did not align with the proposed bills in the House or Senate.
Though a commitment to campaign promises makes a candidate a more attractive choice, with public support growing and bipartisan backing gaining momentum, many people admit they can only theorize why Biden has stayed the course so far.
NORML political director Justin Strekal told Benzinga he wished he had an answer. "I have stories, but I don't have answers," Strekal said, adding that Biden's stance "defies political logic."
Brady Cobb, founder and former CEO of Bluma Wellness who has lobbied for cannabis reform on Capitol Hill, told Benzinga that he assumed there'd be "immediate alignment" under a Democrat President. "It's just not there," Cobb said, noting that the administration's early decision to fire staffers over cannabis use presented a confusing image that was pounced upon by the media.
Paul Blair, vice president of government affairs at Turning Point Brands (NYSE: TPB), said Biden's stance is "a start, but clearly not a present priority."
He added, "I don’t see the administration changing its stance, however, until they’re presented with a concrete consensus proposal for the regulation of the marketplace and a path to passage for a legalization bill." Blair said neither exist at the moment.
Others believe that confusion is at the heart of Biden's stance.
Ellen Mellody, a former spokesperson for Obama's 2008 press secretary, is now a strategist for the cannabis media firm MATTIO Communications. Mellody says Biden's reluctance is much like others of his generation who have been subject to waves of cannabis propaganda and misinformation though finds that to be a weak excuse.
"That's morally unconscionable, disappointing, out of line with this moral character and reveals how persuasive these misinformation campaigns have been surrounding cannabis," Mellody said.
As Psaki mentioned in April, Biden does not align with the current bills in either chamber of Congress. Cannabis operators note that reluctance around cannabis legalization is not exclusive to the President.
"Cannabis policy is an exceptionally contentious topic, which is exacerbated by legal, practical, social, racial, economic, commerce, public health and safety, states' rights, individual liberties, and internal trade and treaty-based complications," Trent Woloveck, chief commercial director of Jushi Holdings Inc. (OTC: JUSHF) told Benzinga, adding that pressing issues like COVID and the infrastructure take precedence but remains hopeful that cannabis reform will receive attention during this term.
Will Congress Pressure Biden With A Bill?
Some commended the reform efforts made by Democrats so far. Others were critical, noting fragmentation as a possible stumbling block.
Bob Fireman, MariMed Inc. (OTC: MRMD) CEO and president, stated that Congress made historical progress with the passage of the 2020 MORE Act, highlighting its safe banking and decriminalization components.
"However, instead of the Senate working that bill to a conclusion, Senator Schumer decided to produce a Senate bill," Fireman said. "Unfortunately, that bill has created heated discussion with more progressive members of his caucus and has stalled."
Mellody appeared optimistic about the progress made so far despite internal opposition. "However, with such thin margins the Senate and some soft Democrats, who sway in the wind like Manchin, the votes aren't there right now," said Mellody, noting that the stance goes against the will of the public and what she considers the correct political maneuver.
Mellody and Strekal both believe more political pressure could compel Biden to take action. "I am of the belief that reform will come when Congress sends it across town, as opposed to coming from the White House," Strekal said.
Meanwhile, Blair contends that the focus should be on the states, especially the five potential states that could take up reform in 2022. He said reform in conservative states through ballot initiatives is a prime point to watch.
"That’s what makes this more bipartisan and what tips the scales in Washington over the next five years, with more and more states, Red and Blue, creating marketplaces," Blair said.
Photo: Public domain/Wiki Commons
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