On January 7, with 98% of the votes counted, Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jonathan Ossoff completed, at the very last minute, a sweep of the two seats for the state of Georgia in the Senate, against Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.
This narrow victory, with a small margin of 1.2 and 0.6 percentage difference, leaves Democrats and Republicans nearly tied in the US upper chamber and adds up to Joe Biden’s party’s major victory in the executive race, as he took office on January 20. The Democratic Party, now in office, will have a free hand this new term to make legislative changes and fulfill election promises, especially that of decriminalization of cannabis at the federal level, although with a determination not as strong as his former rival’s, Bernie Sanders, who had promised he would legalize marijuana in the 50 states on his first day in office.
Nevertheless, Biden’s stance on cannabis could make a big difference. The President expressed his support for the decriminalization and expungement of all past marijuana-related convictions and related criminal records for possession shortly before being elected as a Democratic candidate, a measure that has already been implemented in several states such as Nevada or Colorado. Also, he promised to review the classification of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Law, since this substance still remains in the category of most dangerous illegal drugs along with heroin and therefore it is not eligible for medical or therapeutic use, a change that would follow the recently approved reclassification of the substance by the United Nations last December 2020. He also expressed his support for the legalization of marijuana for medical and therapeutic purposes, which would allow all states to enact new legislation on this issue without interference.
Moreover, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the MORE Act on December 4, 2020, yet another landmark initiative that goes further than Biden’s official position. This new law, adopted by 228 votes in favor, some of them coming from Republican lawmakers, and 164 votes against. The objectives of this law, whose approval by the Senate seemed impossible at the time, are to remove cannabis from the list of illegal substances, decriminalize use and possession and revoke all related convictions issued in US courts until then. This policy reform also contemplates the sale of cannabis-derived products applying a 5% tax, revenue that will be required to be deposited into a newly created federal ‘opportunities’ trust fund that will be used to support communities and companies especially affected by the war on drugs policies carried out by past presidential administrations.
This bill was introduced in July 2020 by congressman Jerrold Nadler, then Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and former senator Kamala Harris, current vice president of the United States, after the elections that were held last December. “One of America’s greatest shame is its overcrowded prison system, which has led to high incarceration rates, especially for African American and Latino men; this situation has been fueled by the failed war on drugs, which is one of the reasons why I am in favor of legalizing marijuana” declared, just a few weeks after the elections, the new vice president, whose approval ratings and popularity are definitely higher than President Biden’s.
Nowadays, recreational marijuana is legal in 15 states. South Dakota, Arizona, Montana, and New Jersey have been the last four states joining this list after having held referendums on November 3 simultaneously with the general elections. Population in these fifteen states, over one hundred million people, amounts to practically a third of the total population of the United States.