You could argue that without the COVID-19 pandemic, cannabis legalization is would still be years away in America.
It is hard to find a silver lining in the COVID-19 epidemic. Millions of people around the world have been sicken by the virus, and hundreds of thousands are dead, and the death toll continues to climb daily. Some may argue there are some good things, or silver linings, that are coming out of this global tragedy. The environment is showing signs of healing as carbon gases have been greatly reduced. The massive drop in traffic patterns has caused skies to clear, animals to return to places, and reduced the strain on our ozone layer.
For some, working from home or from on a ZOOM camera has increased productivity as wasted time spent commuting and preparing for work each day goes into other activities like morning family time or things like morning meditation or yoga.
But one movement may owe its recent progress to the fact that COVID has created a new president-elect, a new market, and a ton of new interest, that is the marijuana industry. There are a gaggle of reasons as to why, without the COVID-19 pandemic, the marijuana industry may be looking at 5 to 10 more years before Federal legalization.
The most important thing COVID-19 did for marijuana legalization was replace the current conservative, Republican president with a Democrat. Not that Joe Biden is weed’s best friend, but if Trump won re-election there would be close to 0% chance of Federal marijuana policy change until 2024 at the earliest. This is the same president Trump who picked anti-pot Attorney General Jeff Sessions and thinks marijuana makes people dumb. There is a strong case to be made that if COVID-19 doesn’t hit, Trump is an easy re-election winner in 2020. The stock market was soaring to 30,000 or move under his watch and unemployment was hovering under 2% in America. Love him or hate him, people vote with their pocketbook and ask themselves, “Am I better off or worse off than I was 4 years ago?”. People love to see their IRA and pension fund balances going up, and with the Dow at 30,000 and unemployment at under 2%, does the idea of a “tax and spend Democrat” sound like a good choice? If COVID-19 doesn’t hit, the odds at Trump getting re-elected are pretty good, and that would not have been good for cannabis.
Second, cannabis sales during the pandemic have held strong and even skyrocketed in some legal states. The industry adapted to the early COVID shutdowns by rolling out sidewalk delivery, and straight up deliveries. While consumers cut back on non-essential items, cannabis sales took a bigger chunk of discretionary income, as well as alcohol, as people were trapped in their homes. People eliminated wasted spending on eating out and fancy tech knick knacks, but spent readily on cannabis in legal areas. Sales slumped for iPhones, but sales went up for half ounces. Showing that consumers would keep their cannabis spending stable during economic pressure forced many state governments to label marijuana as an “essential item”, and allowed dispensaries to stay open during the shutdown. Think about that for a second, a schedule 1 Federally illegal drug was deemed “essential” by state governments during the pandemic and was allowed to be sold just like toilet paper or alcohol. Wild times have been created by COVID-19.
Third, the aftermath of COVID-19 will create one of the worst financial situations in America since the Great Depression. State funds and coffers are now tapped out due to rising unemployment costs, pandemic relief costs, stimulus check costs, and the lack of tax revenue from things like retail shopping, eating out, highway use, public transportation use, and even gasoline taxes. Without drivers, many state highway funds and resources are in as rough shape as unemployment assistance and welfare accounts. There will be a dire need to create jobs, tax revenue, and a product consumers are willing to buy while in a recession. Cannabis fits all those checkboxes and with the Federal deficit now skyrocketing into the trillions, the Federal government will be looking for new tax revenue sources as fast as they can during a tepid recovery. What industry could create a million jobs and maybe a billion or two in tax revenue pretty quickly? The same industry that now has over 70% voter approval for legalization, a win-win for politicians, do what the voters want and create new tax revenue sources.
Fourth, without COVID-19 maybe the 5 state ballots for marijuana legalization that took place in 2020 don’t all pass. What if only 2 out of the 5 passed? What if South Dakota only approved medical and not recreational? All of these “what ifs” could have happened if states were not desperate for new tax revenue after watching Colorado and Illinois pull in over one billion in taxes and one billion in sales in each case. States hate to see their citizens spending money in other states, so legalization in one area usually leads to faster legalization in geographical areas touching that state. Just as New York hates to see it’s population driving to Massachusetts to buy recreational cannabis, they have to move quicky now since New Jersey will be eating their tax lunch soon as the state approved recreational cannabis in November of 2020. There is nothing like seeing your neighbor state rake in tax revenue from your residents to get someone to move quickly and to legalize something.
Fifth, while various studies on how THC and CBD affect the COVID-19 virus are in their infancy in professional medical terms, most of the early reports are that cannabis is good at fighting the COVID-19 virus, one way or another. It can help with symptoms, it may be able to restrict the virus’s ability to spread in the body by blocking certain pathways, it may be able to help the body heal quicker, and it may just do something basic like relieve the stress and anxiety people are feeling during COVID-19. By no means is cannabis a cure for COVID-19, but all signs point to cannabis being a good substance in the battle against the life created by COVID-19, whether it is physical symptoms or psychological relief from day to day life. One day we may learn that cannabis, THC, or CBD, or some other cannabinoid was actually very effective at limiting the virus’ effects or helping with speeding up recovery times from the virus, time will tell, but all signs show that using cannabis to combat COVID-19 is helpful and beneficial in some way or another.
There may not have been any president that could have survived the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing recession, but if Trump had gotten re-elected cannabis legalization at the Federal level would still be a long shot. Instead, we are sitting less than a week away from the House of Representatives voting on the MORE ACT, a bill that would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substance Act and legalize cannabis at the Federal level. The co-sponsor of the MORE ACT? None other than VP-elect Kamala Harris. Will the bill pass this December, probably not, but cannabis legalization will happened under a Biden-Harris presidency at some point in time.
It may be wishful thinking to hope the Democrats can turn both Senate seats to blue in the January 5th state of Georgia runoff, but if the cannabis gods lined up and that was to happen, look out, because cannabis legalization at the Federal level will happen very quickly. If the Democrats controlled both the Senate and the House, and the president was also a Democrat, he would never veto a bill coming with over 80% support from his own party.
COVID-19, a horrendous virus that changed our lives, but may have caused cannabis legalization to speed up to warp speed. Will we look back in 10 years once we have vaccines and no more masks and say, “Wow, it was a bad time, but there is no way weed gets legalized without COVID-19 and all the changes it caused”?