The Senate will vote to pass a bill to federally legalize marijuana within the next two years.
That’s according to the top Democratic lawmaker who is expected to be installed as majority leader following his party’s projected clean sweep in this week’s two Georgia runoff elections that will give them control of the chamber.
Coupled with Joe Biden’s presidential win, the new situation on Capitol Hill means that federal cannabis policy change is in the cards for the 117th Congress. While the former vice president has declined to embrace adult-use legalization, he’s pledged to adopt modest reforms such as marijuana decriminalization and expunging past records.
And a push from House and Senate Democratic leadership—who are already on record with pledges to advance far-reaching marijuana reforms—could lead to the comprehensive changes that advocates have been fighting for, including the advancement of a federal cannabis descheduling bill that cleared the House last month.
Presidential politics notwithstanding, it’s always been the case that it would be largely incumbent upon legislators to advance cannabis reform. And the chances of their success in doing so in recent years has hinged largely on the makeup of the Senate.
Because Democrats have now reclaimed control of the chamber, those chances are significantly bolstered. Senate leadership in the 116th Congress had declined repeated opportunities to hold votes on marijuana reform legislation. Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in particular has been an adamant opponent of loosening federal laws on marijuana.
Even modest, bipartisan legislation to protect banks that service cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators had languished in the GOP-controlled Senate after clearing the House multiple times. McConnell’s office recently released a recap of the latest round of coronavirus relief legislation and celebrated its exclusion of the cannabis banking language.
Meanwhile, the most significant piece of cannabis legislation to advance out of the Senate in recent history is the 2018 Farm Bill that contained provisions to federally legalize hemp and its derivatives, which McConnell had championed.
Democrats are now poised to advance any number of more substantial cannabis bills, including those calling for the end of federal marijuana prohibition. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the current top Democrat in the Senate, who is expected to be installed as the majority leader, said in October that he will put his own descheduling bill “on the floor” and that he thinks “we’ll have a good chance to pass it.”