A few weeks before the US Presidential election, we ran an article on this website speculating about where cannabis and cannabis products might next be legalized within the country. All the information we listed in that article was correct at the time of writing. Now, not even two months later, it looks like we needn’t have bothered writing it at all. The story of the next two years doesn’t look like it’s going to be one of cannabis being legalized one state at a time. It’s more likely to be one of total federal legalization of cannabis in the United States of America, according to medical marijuana provider telemedmj.com. Don’t take our word for it, though – take the word of someone who ought to know these things, like Brendan Kennedy, the CEO of Canadian medical cannabis production company Tilray.
Before you start making giddy plans for a cannabis tour of the United States of America, let’s start with a word of caution. The US federal government making something legal doesn’t mean that every state will immediately make provisions for the legal sale and distribution of cannabis. We can see that from the way that the Supreme Court’s 2018 legalization of sports betting has had stunted growth across the fifty states. Some states, most notably New Jersey, jumped on the sports betting gravy train immediately and started making money. Others, like Texas, haven’t yet introduced sports betting at all. You can’t even play online slots in Texas. The fact that such disparity exists, where UK slots like “Enchanted Prince” can make millions of dollars in one state but none at all in others, suggests that we’ll see an equally uneven take-up of legal cannabis options. The fact that the sale and production of cannabis tends to be a more controversial and emotive issue than online slots for people on both sides of the debate might make it even harder.
Let’s look past that for now, though. We can’t discuss the potential for each state to embrace legal cannabis until it’s legal for them to do so on a federal level, so let’s investigate Brendan Kennedy’s statement. As CEO of Tilray, he has an obvious interest in an expanded American cannabis market but also ought to have access to ‘inside knowledge’ on such matters. In an interview he gave to CNBC a few days ago, he said he was confident that full legalization would take place by 2023, within the term of the current Biden administration. He notes that both Canada and Mexico are moving toward legalization, and the USA is unlikely to want to play ‘piggy in the middle’ between two nation-states making a tax windfall from legal cannabis sales. He also confirmed that his company has begun to supply medical marijuana to France and that further relaxation of cannabis laws in major European nations would also be likely to influence American policy.
While Kennedy probably has good cause to be optimistic, he appears to be working on intuition rather than facts. He’d very much like to open a production facility in the USA, but the law currently prevents him from doing so. Instead, the cannabis products made by Tilray come from two factories – one in Canada and another in Portugal. One of the assumptions that he appears to have made is that the Biden administration – nominally more left-leaning than the Trump administration – is more likely to be receptive to the idea of legalizing cannabis. That might not be correct. The legalization of cannabis is, politically speaking, more of a libertarian idea than a liberal idea. A libertarian would support the idea of legalization on the grounds that people ought to be free to do whatever they please with their own bodies so long as they’re not harming anyone. A liberal would be more likely to worry about potential negative effects on public health.
Can we look to President Biden’s newly-formed administration for any guidance on this? Perhaps we can, and perhaps there is a relaxation coming, but not as extensive a relaxation as Brendan Kennedy and others like him are hoping for. Biden’s views on cannabis are well known, and in the past, he’s never spoken in favor of full legalization. He might support decriminalization – and he might even look to enact such a policy before the end of 2021 – but that isn’t the same thing. If cannabis were to be decriminalized, it would be removed from the Schedule I list, and quite a lot of criminal records would be expunged. That would be good news for the prospects of many people who have cannabis offenses on their records. It wouldn’t do very much for anybody else other than preventing the federal government from interfering with states that already have relatively liberalized cannabis laws.
This isn’t all about Biden, though. Biden, with the greatest of respect to him, isn’t in the job for the long term and isn’t likely to stand for re-election in 2024. Kamala Harris, who very much will be standing on that ticket, is known to look much more favorably on full legalization, as are many on the left of Biden’s party. Biden’s own (relatively) conservative views aren’t the be-all and end-all when there are so many people in the party pushing him to do more. The appointments that he’s already made to senior roles – especially those in the Justice Department and the Department of Health – are likely to take a more positive view on cannabis reform than their Trump-era predecessors.
A lot can happen in two years. Brendan Kennedy could easily turn out to be right, and we could be looking at a more cannabis-tolerant America by 2023. What probably makes that less likely is the fact that this issue doesn’t appear to be a major consideration for Joe Biden. It wasn’t part of the ticket that he ran on, and it isn’t an issue that’s been touched upon by the numerous executive orders he’s signed during his first two weeks in the White House. His list of immediate priorities is long, and cannabis legalization isn’t on it. We’re not holding our breath for legalization by the end of 2023 – but we’d be surprised if it hadn’t happened by the end of 2025. After waiting so long for it, we guess another four years isn’t too much to bear.