What impact do Democrat victories in both of the Georgia senate seat elections have on chances for cannabis reform at the US federal level?

President elect Joe Biden still looks to be somewhat reluctant to too closely embrace cannabis reform as an issue. But effective control of the senate through victories by Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in special run-off elections in the state of Georgia give Democrats 48 seats with two independents that generally vote democratic (and would certainly do so on most cannabis/hemp issues) to 50 Republican seats. Assuming party line voting – a fair assumption given the current political climate – it would be down to Democrat vice-president elect Kamala Harris to cast the deciding vote in the Democrat’s favour in all tied situations.

It should be noted that cannabis may still be a difficult issue, with legislators from conservative areas potentially reluctant to support measures that might prove unpopular, but this is more likely to be a local issue that would affect representatives in the House – where Democrats enjoy a slightly larger majority – than senators representing whole state populations. This is demonstrated by the recent Republican votes on certifying the presidential election results, where the vast majority rejected objections to the certifications while those objections enjoyed more support from Republicans in the House.

Thus with theoretic senate control, there does appear to be a chance to move forward with legislation. It is unlikely to be an immediate priority, with Covid-related measures almost certainly the first issue to be tackled. But given the connection between cannabis-related arrests and race relations – and the priority given to race relationship issues at this time – it is now more than likely that a major push will happen to, at the very least, expunge prior cannabis-related non-violent criminal records and bring in some form of decriminalisation during the next legislative session.

The big question from those in the hemp and cannabis sectors is whether that push could go any further and bring in some form of legal medical or even recreational sales – most likely by removing barriers at the federal level and delegating specific decisions to state legislators. This would, in essence, simply be a ratification of the status quo, though it might push some borderline states to start examining the issue.

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