2021 was a year of nothing burger for cannabis policy, regulation and legislation. The year came with the optimism of a giant hot air balloon and slowly but surely the optimism for change leaked out. By the end of the year, legalization supporters felt like a helium balloon a week after a 5-year birthday party.
For those of us who follow marijuana policy and the cannabis industry, 2021 began with optimism over the positive changes to come. After all, for nearly a decade, state after state has legalized marijuana and implemented new legal cannabis markets. 2020 was a banner year at the state level, especially during the November election when four states legitimized record numbers, including dark red states like Montana and South Dakota.
Certainly, this overwhelming show of support at the ballot box will prompt state legislatures across the country to get ahead of this apparent political trend by passing their own legalization bills. Enthusiasm was particularly high in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, where states with long-running medical programs and a less-than-quasi-favorable political climate tended to be next in line for legalization.
Meanwhile, during the pre-vaccine pandemic days of 2020, the cannabis business and its employees were deemed essential, with a legalization program and legal market in almost every state. Amazingly, cannabis went from banned to mandatory in most parts of the country within a few months. It stood to reason that other states looking to revive their struggling post-COVID economies would turn to the legalization of cannabis as a new source of revenue.
But more importantly, in January Democrats took control of both the Presidency and both houses of Congress, giving them unified control of Washington, DC for the first time since 2009. While President Biden has never been a supporter of marijuana reform, nearly all other Democratic Party leaders in Washington, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Vice President Kamala Harris, were open advocates of legalization.
Investors in the cannabis industry took notice. The early 2021 saw major volatility in stock prices as publicly traded cannabis companies and multi-state operators were still recovering from the 2019 industry-wide crash. Most cannabis companies saw record high valuations at the start of the year.
Then all of a sudden… nothing happened. Well, to be fair, very little happened. The year 2021 had some notable achievements, particularly at the state level where legislatures in New York, Virginia and Delaware join the growing list of legal marijuana states. But other states that seemed favorable, such as Rhode Island, Maryland and Pennsylvania, made no progress on legalization. Despite massive victories in the ballot box in deeply conservative states in 2020, no Republican-leaning state legislature passed as much as a medical marijuana bill in 2021.
Of course, the biggest disappointment has come at the federal level, where the Democratic-controlled Congress achieved nothing on the issue in 2021. Sure enough, the House of Representatives passed the Safe Banking Act twice, first as a standalone bill and later as an amendment. National Defense Authorization Act. But the bill has so far failed to make it through the Senate, and access to banking for the cannabis industry remains elusive.
The House also passed the MORE Act, a bill that would legalize marijuana at the federal level and address many of the historical injustices of the war on cannabis, but did little to establish a federal regulatory framework for the legal sale and production of cannabis. . But the House passed the bill prior to Congress, and it is dead when it comes to the Senate, where Chuck Schumer decided to draft his proposal Which has been released as a working draft to date but has not yet been formally introduced.
Passing Safe Banking in early 2021 was believed by many to be the worst legislative achievement ever to this congressional session, yet as the year draws to a close, there is raging debate among Democratic caucuses about whether Whether to give priority to banking first or comprehensive reforms. With nothing of substance to show for it. It turns out that Safe Banking wasn’t the worst case scenario. As it turned out, the worst-case scenario was the status quo.
Investors in the cannabis industry have taken notice. The increased stock prices for the start of the year were largely a reflection of enthusiasm over real banking or the prospect of a more comprehensive recovery. As there has been no progress in Washington, D.C. in months, the cannabis company’s stock prices fell steadily throughout the year, along with investor confidence in Democrats in Washington, D.C. to take meaningful action on the issue. According to New Cannabis Ventures, American Cannabis Company Shares ended 2021 down nearly 200% At mid-February highs.
First my old debate partner kevin sabet And as Project SAM prohibitions get so excited, let’s not exaggerate the malaise surrounding cannabis reform to end 2021. The overall trend on this issue continues strongly towards legalization. Despite opponents and politicians taking advantage of legal election loopholes in the courts in states such as Mississippi and South Dakota, there has been no concerted legislative effort to back the progress made on legalization. past decade. Not in the same state.
In fact, public support for legalization continues to grow. Gallup, who has surveyed Americans’ sentiments on the issue every year since the late 1960s Record 68% support for legalization, with a majority in every age group and among members of all political ideologies and parties.
And we started seeing real movement from Republicans on this issue with the introduction of Representative Nancy Mays (R-SC). state reform act, the first GOP-sponsored bill in Congress to legalize marijuana, hints that there may be an openness to a bipartisan solution in the future. And if Democrats fail to take advantage of the political opportunity before them, they risk handing the issue over to Republicans, if and when they take back control of Congress, possibly as early as 2023. The GOP had the opportunity to own the political benefits that come with legalization during the Trump administration but failed to capitalize on it. Democrats should not bet on their political rivals making the same mistake next time.
As mentioned earlier, some state legislatures legalized this last year, even though the numbers were below expectations. And it was never expected that the new legalization ballot initiative would take place in 2021, as elections in the odd-year run very rarely.
But overall, for a year that began with sky-high optimism for broader cannabis reform, 2021 may just feel like a letdown. Supporters had every reason to feel optimistic, but for the most part, they were disappointed by their elected representatives in parties, both at the state and federal levels.
All that said, while the events of last year will clearly lower expectations for 2022, there is valid reason for optimism that this will be a more eventful and fruitful year for marijuana legalization than 2021. But that’s a topic for the next column…