Even though control of Congress was still up in the air Wednesday morning following several tight midterm races, spokespeople for several cannabis trade organizations and activist groups expressed happiness with the new political landscape.
“I’m optimistic, but I’m waiting for all this to shake out,” said Michael Correia, chief lobbyist for the National Cannabis Industry Association, referring to the possibility that a Georgia runoff election next month between Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker could ultimately decide whether the GOP or Democrats control the Senate.
“Prospects for cannabis reform are not dead. And that is the best thing this reform movement could have hoped for,” said Justin Strekal, the founder of BOWL PAC, a cannabis-focused political action committee.
“It was a good night for cannabis,” said Erin Moffet, director of communications and policy for the Liaison Group, which represents the National Cannabis Roundtable. “You have folks who are leading on (marijuana reform), and they’re being reelected.”
As of press time Wednesday morning, no major news outlets had called enough Congressional races for observers to know which party would control either the U.S. House of Representatives or the Senate.
But there were several specific races that insiders said were either major wins or helpful incremental victories, such as New York Gov. Kathy Hochul successfully fending off a challenge from anti-cannabis Congressman Lee Zeldin, and the win by Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in the U.S. Senate race, given that Fetterman made marijuana legalization a primary campaign issue.
Multiple sources noted, Democratic control of the Senate is the biggest potential win that marijuana businesses could hope for, simply because Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear for years that he’s not interested in pushing federal cannabis changes through.
“From a cannabis industry perspective, the optimal outcome would be Democratic leadership to retain the Senate, because they’ve shown a willingness to agendize the issue,” said Randal Meyer, executive director for the Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce.
Andrew Freedman, the head of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education and Regulation, went a step further and suggested that a split Congress may actually be necessary for cannabis interests, in order to force Democrats and Republicans to work together on marijuana reforms. He pointed to Republicans in the House, such as Reps. Dave Joyce, Nancy Mace, and Brian Mast, all of whom have emerged as champions of cannabis issues.
“If this gives them the platform to be the more vocal champions of cannabis reform, that actually might be what’s needed for a tipping point on the political side,” Freedman said. “For cannabis policy at the federal level to come to maturity, it’s going to have to become a more bipartisan issue, or at least a less partisan issue.”
Not only that, but a few sources suggested that the SAFE Banking Act may still have a window for passage in the lame duck session in the next few weeks, though other D.C. sources weren’t as bullish on its chances.
“I think there’s the will and the way for a SAFE Plus package to pass in the lame duck,” Moffet said.
Correia said the primary takeaway for cannabis business interests from the midterms is that if any marijuana-related bill will get signed into law in the next two years, that it’ll have to be a bipartisan measure, since the balance of power in both the House and Senate are expected to be razor-thin.
“If advocates want to get cannabis reform over the finish line, it’s going to have to be nonpartisan. Democrats are going to have to work with Republicans to make this a winning issue,” Correia said.
Strekal, who worked on several midterm election races this season, also used the word “optimistic” to describe his mood on Wednesday morning, “compared to what could have been.”
Strekal was referring to polling that had many political observers expecting a so-called “red wave” in the midterms, with enormous gains for the GOP, which traditionally has not been friendly to cannabis reform.
“It would have been very plausible for Republicans to take a 30-seat majority or more in the House and take over the Senate,” Strekal said.
Instead, the likelihood of a meager GOP majority in the House and the possibility that Democrats keep the Senate may bolster the odds of a cannabis-related bill getting through Congress, whether in the lame duck session or in the next two-year session starting in January, Strekal said.
But that depends on consensus, which has been very tough for Congress to find on any issue, Strekal noted.
The slimmer the GOP majority in the House, the tougher it will be for whoever becomes the next speaker to keep the entire Republican conference politically united on various issues, including cannabis, said Meyer.
“The less of a majority Leader (Kevin) McCarthy would have in that circumstance … the more he has to negotiate with the far-right and conservative elements of his party, which are still opposed to cannabis legalization,” Meyer said.
“That could result in a harder conference situation for cannabis overall, with respect to Leader McCarthy,” Meyer said. “But what we do know, from a positive perspective, is a majority of the Republican conference voted for SAFE Banking. So we know there can be votes there, but it makes it difficult from a leadership perspective to move things with consensus.”
Meyer echoed Correia and said what the cannabis industry actually needs is more bipartisanship in Washington.
“If there’s one thing this election doesn’t do, it’s give a strong mandate to govern. There might be a victor, but a mandate to govern is different than an electoral victory,” Meyer said.
Correia added, “It’s a very partisan, polarized atmosphere, and it’s hard to work across the aisle. But on this issue, it’s the one issue where we can work across the aisle.”