On Saturday morning November 7th, news broke that Joseph R. Biden had received enough votes to become the next president of the United States. This long-awaited for change in the executive office is expected to be accompanied by policy shifts that may affect various private industries – particularly the hemp industry, which already has a tumultuous relationship with the federal government.
Despite their precarious legal status, hemp and cannabis products have spent the last decade enjoying a taste of mainstream legitimacy. Nowadays tinctures and salves can be purchased at the local drugstore. Companies like e1011 labs have been able to develop incredible new products like the Elon without fears of legal repercussions.
But what exactly does a Joe Biden presidency mean for the hemp trade? To get a clearer picture, let's first look at the previous administration’s stance on cannabis.
Donald Trump on Hemp and Cannabis
For the past four years, the Trump administration has had an almost schizophrenic relationship with the cannabis industry.
On the one hand, Trump-appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made it a clear mission to undo the great strides cannabis activists have made in legalizing the plant during the last decade. Session’s vehement disapproval of all things cannabis was most crystallized in his decision to rescind the Cole Memorandum. For those who don’t know, the Cole Memorandum was an Obama-era decree from the United States Department of Justice that stated the federal government would not enforce prohibition laws in states that had independently voted to legalize cannabis.
Session’s rescinding of the memo created widespread panic throughout the industry, as it was unclear if dispensaries that had been legally operating would become subject to federal prosecution or suddenly find themselves targets of DEA raids.
On the other hand, Trump’s Department of Agriculture passed the 2018 Farm Bill ending the federal prohibition of hemp, which it defined as cannabis containing less than .3% THC, and created the blueprint for states to create their own hemp legalization laws. The Department of Agriculture even went so far as to allocate funds to stimulate hemp production and research across the country.
Trump, and his cabinet, have had a temperamental relationship with the cannabis plant, to say the least. These contradictory stances make it difficult to predict what exactly four more years would have meant for the hemp industry, but likely there would be little change to the current paradigm.
Joe Biden on Hemp and Cannabis
Both Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have had drastic evolutions regarding their stances on cannabis.
Biden has historically been known to be “tough on crime.” Famously, Joe drafted the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which is heavily criticized by the left as being a contributor to the mass incarceration problem the country is currently facing. The bill created funding for drug courts, increased mandatory sentencing, and made drug testing mandatory for those on federal probation.
Now Joe Biden has taken a new position on cannabis that is more in step with the modern Democratic Party’s platform. He has publicly stated his support for decriminalization, the expungement of past marijuana convictions, and rescheduling THC to a lower schedule, allowing for further research into the compound’s medicinal benefits, and making it easier for citizens to make use of the therapeutic properties of hemp.
Harris, who began her career as a prosecutor, oversaw a 6% increase in marijuana convictions while serving as the San Francisco Attorney General. Her position on cannabis reform remained antagonistic through 2015 when she publicly pivoted by coming out in support of ending federal cannabis prohibition at the California Democrats Convention. Harris went on to co-sponsor presidential campaign rival Cory Booker’s Senate Bill designed to do just that. A year later, Harris co-sponsored her own bill, The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE), which went beyond decriminalization by expunging past marijuana convictions and allocating resources for marginalized communities that have been disproportionately affected by cannabis laws.
So while neither Biden nor Harris has an exemplary record when it comes to cannabis reform, they have recently updated their positions, and presented a willingness to help facilitate meaningful change.
What Will Happen to Hemp under Joe Biden?
The past four years have been a period of uncertain times for the hemp industry. President Trump has played both sides of the cannabis debate and refused to take an official stance regarding the plant’s legality. His administration’s unpredictability has effectively halted progress on reform.
While Biden and Harris have both had unfriendly attitudes towards cannabis in the past, they now expressly seek to lift restrictions around the plant, and undo some of the harm caused by prohibition. This would allow for better research into therapeutic compounds like THC and CBD, and would greatly benefit the hemp industry.
How effective the Biden administration will be at enacting any significant legislation that would accomplish these goals is yet to be seen and will largely depend on cooperation between all three branches of government.