Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but we might be on the verge of federal legalization of cannabis. Stop us if you’ve heard this before, too: Right now the picture is extremely unclear.

As we’ve covered in this space many times, the fact that marijuana is a federally controlled substance has been something of a lead weight around the ankles of the legal cannabis industry. It’s hard to grow a business when banks will have nothing to do with you, for one.

Time after time, Congress has drafted legislation to right this wrong, and time after time that legislation has been voted down or simply shunted aside. Now, with a Democrat-controlled House and a split Senate (with the Vice President holding the tiebreaking vote), hopes are rekindled.

Senators Cory Booker and Ron Wyden, along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, in early February issued a joint statement announcing that existing marijuana reform bills would be merged in an effort to move towards some kind of federal legalization.

While it’s not clear exactly which bills would be merged, nor exactly how, the result is likely to involve some combination of:

  • The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which focused on social equity, including measures in support of those who suffered as a result of the War on Drugs.
  • The State’s Act, which combines the social and racial elements of the MORE Act with a focus on assisting the growth of the commercial industry, and includes language prohibiting the FDA from placing further restrictions on cannabis.
  • The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE), which stipulates that federal regulators may not interfere with depository institutions that deal with legal cannabis operations. The SAFE Act has been before the Senate for more than a year.

Two additional factors could provide hope that this time around might be different from prior failed attempts: First, Mexico last week approved a bill legalizing recreational cannabis, meaning our neighbors to both the north and the south are on board. Second, in the post-COVID economy, states will be very hungry for deficit-busting tax revenues, and the potential cash cow that is the cannabis industry will be hard to ignore.

Nothing in Washington is certain, but the signs pointing towards cannabis legalization are probably more promising than ever before.

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