After more than a year in the toilet, several cannabis stocks posted some gains early Thursday. Twelve percent here, 4 percent there—nothing close to recovering a string of epic losses that began well before the COVID-19 pandemic, but a welcome “rally” nonetheless.

What’s got investors feeling bullish? MarketWatch offered the probable, if irrational reason: Joe Biden remains well ahead of President Donald Trump in the polls. And, if elected, Joe Biden would decriminalize cannabis, as Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California), his vice-presidential nominee, reiterated during last night’s debate with Vice President Mike Pence.

Biden, the former vice president, would “decriminalize marijuana and we will expunge the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana”-related crimes, Harris sai.

This isn’t exactly news—Biden has promised to decriminalize cannabis before—but with attention spans short, it’s nice to have a reminder.

But what we don’t have are any kind of specifics. What we do have is a strong indication that neither party’s presidential ticket has much appetite to touch the cannabis question—and if the marijuana industry is going to have a Silicon Valley pop, someone else is going to have to do the lifting.


Yes, Harris is the lead sponsor of a legalization bill, that’s currently bottled up in Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Senate. And Biden, a legalization skeptic, has not once promised to make things easier for the cannabis industry. Does Harris plan to change President Biden’s mind, will Biden issue an executive order to thwart McConnell—does all of this hinge on flipping the Senate?

“We don’t know what she means,” said Nick Kovacevich, CEO of KushCo Holdings, a California firm that manufactures packaging and other ancillary products. “It’s definitely good that it got mentioned,” he added. “The more it’s talked about, the more momentum there is for change, but just throwing that out there is not going to give anybody the confidence that there is really going to be a change under a Biden-Harris administration.”

Even worse than the status quo would be the kind of half measured, triangulated compromise for which the Democrats are known. Let’s say a Biden Administration placed cannabis in Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act. It would be less illegal, but in the control of the pharmaceutical industry—and a complete disaster for legal weed as we know it.

As for expunging old offenses and truly decriminalizing cannabis—that isn’t even the federal government’s job. Yes, federal prohibition needs to end for cannabis to legally cross state lines, for big banks and big investors to get involved, for struggling cannabis companies to finally hit the jackpot. But almost everyone arrested and punished for cannabis is penalized under state law, not federal. And Congress can’t change state law any more than it can compel states to accept Obamacare.

But are Trump and Pence better? Don’t fool yourself. Yes, marijuana arrests have finally declined over the past year. And, yes, there have been fewer federal raids and more states legalizing recreational marijuana. All this has happened in spite of Donald Trump, not because of him.

Jeff Sessions, Trump’s first attorney general, spent his first few months in office sowing fear and doubt: revoking the Cole Memo, a key Obama-era Department of Justice document that gave cannabis some legal protection; declaring cannabis just as bad as heroin; promising to go after commercial cannabis businesses. None of that came to pass, but it all had a chilling and discouraging effect; a psychological stage of the drug war. Bill Barr, his successor, pursued some limited actions against cannabis businesses in Florida. And under Trump, McConnell’s Senate has kept substantive cannabis reform firmly bottled up.

Neither Trump nor Pence have said anything pro-marijuana or hinted at anything that would help legal weed. They have said that they’ll do whatever law enforcement asks them to do—and law enforcement is notoriously anti-legalization. Pence did briefly attack Harris for her role as a prosecutor and attorney general during the drug war, and Biden will also suffer critique for his earnest support of the 1994 crime bill that ramped up the drug war. But it’s not like Pence, the former Indiana governor and congressman who was a loyal soldier in both positions, has unclean hands.

As for Trump himself? The smart money is that he simply does not care. Weed doesn’t exist. And now that Trump backed out of the next presidential debate, refusing to participate in a remote exchange of ideas after contracting COVID-19, there is even less chance that cannabis will even enter the discussion before the Nov. 3 election.

With Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee, it was always going to be a long shot for marijuana legalization to factor into the 2020 election. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic effectively reduced that chance to zero. And any hopes that Donald Trump would shift his position on weed from a chaotic neutral to anything positive conveniently forget his “law and order” mantra, the closest thing Trump has to a coherent political ideology.

Given the strong support among Democrats for legalization, it seems likeliest that a flip of the Senate is what will compel a change in the legal landscape to truly trigger a Canada-style explosion in the American cannabis market. For cannabis legalization, the presidential race is a disappointing and inchoate distraction. Sorry!

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish.