by Michelle Rutter Friberg, NCIA’s Deputy Director of Government Relations
It may not feel like it, but election season 2020 is drawing near an end – mostly. While many of us have been glued to the news for what feels like an eternity, let’s take a look at what actually happened and focus on three main takeaways from the election and how they may impact cannabis policy in the 117th Congress.
Democrats maintained their majority in the House of Representatives — by a slimmer margin than expected
For the last two years, Democrats have held the majority in the House by a margin of 232-197. Many people in Washington and pollsters believed that that majority would increase this cycle, however, that was not the case. As of publication, Democrats hold 216 seats to Republicans’ 196, with 218 seats needed for the majority. A total of 23 seats have still not been called.
While votes are still being counted, it is expected that Democrats will retain a comfortable majority in the lower chamber. Leader Hoyer has already publicly committed to a vote on the MORE Act by the end of the year, which is expected to pass. However, the legislation will surely need to be reintroduced next session and will hopefully have a swift path through the legislative process.
The bottom line: Democratic leadership and committee chairs in the House have been incredibly receptive and supportive of reforming our outdated cannabis laws. Expect to see more of that in the 117th Congress and keep an eye on comprehensive bills like the MORE Act, and incremental bills like the SAFE Banking Act.
We won’t know who won the Senate until January 5
The race to control the Senate continues. As of publication, both Democrats and Republicans hold 48 seats, with four races (Alaska, North Carolina, and both Georgia seats) yet to be called. It’s expected that the Republican incumbents in both Alaska and North Carolina will hold on to their seats, which would give Republicans a total of 50 seats. That means the Senate majority will likely hinge on the two runoff Senate races happening concurrently in Georgia.
In Georgia, no candidate can advance through a primary or a general election system without first earning more than 50% of the votes. If no one does, the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff election, ensuring that one will earn the majority of votes cast. This year, the state’s two Senate races– one regular, the other a special election to fill the remainder of a retired senator’s seat — have gone to a runoff. The first will be between incumbent Sen. David Perdue (R) and Democrat Jon Ossoff; the latter will be between Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock.
In terms of cannabis, the uncertainty around the majority in the upper chamber leaves big question marks. If Democrats are able to take the majority, Leader Schumer (D-NY) has committed to bringing cannabis legalization up for a vote. Democratic committee chairs would also be more likely to bring up cannabis-related bills. However, if Republicans maintain control, we can expect more uphill battles. An important asterisk to that statement, however: Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) is expected to replace current Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) if the GOP retains control. While Sen. Toomey is not a known cannabis champion, advocates feel optimistic about working with him on bills like the SAFE Banking Act.
We now (presumably) have a new President, Vice President, and Administration to work with
Former Vice President Biden and California Senator Kamala Harris are now presumably the President-elect and Vice President-elect of the United States. The campaign made history not only in terms of voter turnout but also by electing the first-ever female and woman of color vice president. President Trump has yet to concede and has vowed to fight the results, however, there has been no proof of voter fraud and the Biden/Harris team is already getting to work on the transition.
What does this mean for cannabis? President-elect Biden has repeatedly voiced his support for decriminalization, while future Madame Vice President Harris is the main Senate sponsor of the MORE Act. She has also continuously reiterated her commitment to expungement and resentencing for those convicted of cannabis offenses. Advocates also feel optimistic about working with a new administration that could potentially codify reform in various ways, such as memos.
Bonus: cannabis initiatives won big on election night
ICYMI, the real winner last Tuesday was marijuana! Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota all legalized adult-use cannabis, bringing us to 15 states with legal marijuana. South Dakota and Mississippi also legalized medical cannabis, bringing that total to 36 states. Want to learn more about what happened? Check out this awesome post NCIA’s Media Relations Director, Morgan Fox, put together.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I think this was one long and anxiety-inducing election cycle! The results are still trickling in, but here at NCIA, we’re excited to continue working on behalf of you and your business. Have more questions about the election, or want to chat with our government relations team about the results? Find Mike, Michelle, Maddy, or Andrew over on NCIA Connect. Talk to you there!