Runoff elections will dictate which party controls the Senate
In Georgia, two Senate runoff elections are scheduled for today, Jan. 5. All eyes are peeled on the race, given that Republicans currently hold 50 seats while Democrats occupy 48 (if you include the two independents who caucus with them, Bernie Sanders and Angus King). With two seats at stake, a Democratic sweep would give the party an equal share. And if there is a tie in the Senate, the deadlock is broken by the vice president -- a seat that Democrat Kamala Harris will soon hold.
Why does it matter if Democrats gain control?
Democratic control of the Senate is important to the pot industry, because Republicans have historically taken a harder stance on cannabis than Democrats. While multiple marijuana bills have passed the Democrat-controlled House in the past few years, there's been no progress in the Senate. In September 2019, the House passed the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act. The bill was an effort to help the industry easily access banking services and avoid having to hold excessive amounts of cash, which many argue is a security issue. And even that failed to go anywhere in the Senate.
On Oct. 1, the House also passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, a COVID-19 relief bill that included the SAFE Banking Act. And while it renewed optimism for the cannabis bill, the act hasn't moved since. The Senate did approve the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act earlier this year, which provided funding to help small businesses -- with the exception of those involved with federally illegal marijuana sales.
Most recently, the House passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, one of the most ambitious marijuana bills presented by Congress. It wouldn't legalize pot, but would remove the drug from the Controlled Substances Act. However, drug policy expert John Hudak said he "would give it less than a snowball's chance of passage in the Senate."
In short, there's been little love for marijuana in majority leader Mitch McConnell's Senate. Unless power changes hands, it's unlikely there will be much hope for any meaningful marijuana reform in the near future.
Although a change in control in the Senate doesn't guarantee that any marijuana-friendly bill will pass if it gets there, it certainly improves the odds for marijuana reform to take place over the next few years.