The Latest in Cannabis News – Biden, Banking, and Legalization

Welcome to the latest in cannabis news! We’re covering everything that’s been happening in the world of marijuana since you’ve been distracted with coronavirus news…

Biden on Cannabis

First up, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has released his stance on national marijuana legalization. Somewhat surprisingly, the former vice-president still opposes full-on legalization. In debates and policy plans, he has voiced support for decriminalization – meaning doing away with prison or jail time for possession, but maintaining fines and its illegal status, rather than full legalization, which would remove all penalties and allow recreational sales throughout the country.

This position is somewhat surprising in light of the national mood on the subject. According to polling by Pew, 59 percent of American adults say cannabis should be legal for medical and recreational use, while 32 percent say it should be legal for medical use only, and only 8 percent said it shouldn’t be legal at all. The support is even greater among democrats, with 78 percent in support of legalization, across all age groups, according to Gallup.

Biden’s position is more progressive than his presumptive opponent, President Trump, who opposes both decriminalization and legalization altogether, but still lags behind public opinion on the subject.

Will Cannabis Banking Get a Break?

The US House of Representatives has pulled together a wide-reaching coronavirus relief bill. While mostly centered on offering businesses and individuals relief from the economic devastation wrought by the virus, lawmakers included other provisions in the vast bill, including one on cannabis banking. The cannabis reform portion of the bill would effectively allow banks to serve cannabis businesses and stocks without fear of punishment.

The coronavirus stimulus package is called the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act – and lawmakers cleverly worked in the SAFE Banking Act – which some of you may recall was last year’s attempt at cannabis banking reform. The SAFE act won approval late last year in the House, but has ever since been stuck in a Senate committee. Although a positive effort, the whole package faces a rough road in the Senate – including approval by anti-cannabis stalwarts Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Trump. McConnell actually called the bill a “totally unserious effort.” We’ll keep you posted.

Lastly, state-centric news.

Illinois has announced that some $31 million in tax money generated from the sales of legal cannabis in the state will be directed to social justice grants and initiatives to repair the harms of the drug war.

When the state made cannabis legal last year, they included the Restore, Reinvest, and Renew (R3) program to provides grant opportunities for “communities impacted by economic disinvestment, violence and the severe and multilayered harm caused by the war on drugs.” The legalization bill stipulated that 25 percent of tax revenue from marijuana sales should go to the R3 program.

The state this week announced that the funds would be made available to businesses and nonprofits in economically distressed areas around the state and can be used for community assessment and planning initiatives as well as service delivery. We will be watching the rollout of this progressive initiative, and applaud the effort to remedy the historical injustices wrecked by prohibition.

Now onto Louisiana. The state’s House of Representatives just voted to expand the list of conditions that permit treatment with medical marijuana and to deliver products to patients’ homes. The bill would allow doctors to prescribe medical cannabis for any debilitating condition, instead of just the short, specific list of ailments now allowed.

The development is notable in light of the state’s conservative politics, indicating the true groundswell and growing support for increased access to cannabis – specifically as an alternative to opioids. The bill was sponsored by Representative Larry Bagley (Republican) who said: “I think what it’s going to mean is, people that have physical problems, they will be able to have an alternative to opioids,” he said. “I know we have a terrible addiction here in Louisiana with the opioid epidemic. Opioids can kill you. I don’t think anybody’s ever died from medical marijuana. It’s just a safety issue.”

Stay tuned for more as it happens!



Christina Rock is a Cape Town-based writer and photographer. Get in touch here.