U.S. Senate runoffs in Georgia: Stakes are HIGH…even for cannabis standards

Georgia On My Mind

Two of Georgia’s Senate seats are up for grabs as a result of the non-conclusive results from the 2020 election. Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are both on the Jan. 5 ballot (Tuesday) in runoff elections because neither got enough votes Nov. 3 to win outright. The outcome, however, will not only result in partisan control of the U.S. Senate but it will be extremely telling for the trajectory of cannabis. 

The candidates: 

Perdue and Loeffler both come from business oriented backgrounds. Perdue, who is finishing a 6 year term, was one of Trump’s chief defenders in the Senate,

If the Democratic challengers, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, win the U.S. Senate election in Georgia they would be the first Democrats to win in 20 years. Ossof interned for renowned civil rights hero and Georgia U.S. Rep. John Lewis during his college years. He’s only 33 years old but has already proved himself in an impressive background in politics. Warnock on the other hand has been active in the fight for bail reform and expanding voting rights. He is also a pastor of the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached and one of Georgia’s best-known Black ministers.

Why the need for a runoff election? 

The November election finished with Perdue at 88,000 votes ahead of Ossoff. Perdue fell short of a majority with 49.7% of the vote, with Georgia law requiring that candidates for Congress and state offices must win by getting more than 50% of the vote. The runoff election is happening in 2021 as a result of the emendation of the Georgia election laws in 2014 where the U.S. Justice Department required nine weeks between general elections and runoffs. 

Why is this runoff election so important? 

Georgia is the only state that holds two undecided Senate seats. Republicans currently hold 50 and Democrats hold 48. If tomorrow results in the victories of Ossof and Warnock, power in the senate would be entirely shifted to the left with Democratic Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as the Senate’s presiding officer, and therefore Democrats would control both houses of Congress.

What role does cannabis play in the partisan fight to control the Senate?

For the same reason that the impending Georgia election will decide who controls both houses of Congress, it will also have incredibly significant implications for marijuana policy. This isn’t just a state-wide policy change, this election could be the deciding factor in the federal fight for 2021 cannabis policy change. Ossoff’s campaign has targeted Gen Z supporters in his efforts to further his agenda to legalize marijuana. Current leadership in the Senate has been staunch in their decision to counter cannabis reform. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) holds anti-marijuana views and will likely be reinstalled next year if the Republican party keeps control of the Senate. McConnell has been instrumental in the anti-marijuana lobbying efforts. His influence was particularly potent when the second round of PPP loans was proposed in September 2020 including a marijuana banking provision, more specifically “providing a safe harbor for financial institutions that provide services to marijuana-related businesses if cannabis is legal in the state where business is conducted.” The PPP loan bill was only passed a little over a week ago; of course not including the provision protecting marijuana affiliated businesses.

Even still, we have made considerable movement towards federal decriminalization. The cannabis industry reached a significant milestone on December 4, 2020, when for the first time ever, the House of Representatives passed a bill to end federal cannabis prohibition. Notably, the MORE (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement) Act de-schedules cannabis, completely removing it from the federal Controlled Substances Act “schedules,” where it is currently listed in the most stringent category, Schedule 1, reserved for drugs with no medical benefit and a high potential for abuse. 

However, the bill will not be considered by the Senate in the present session of Congress, they will have to be reintroduced and pass both the House (again) and Senate in the next session of Congress. This puts enormous pressure on the outcome of the two remaining Senate seats and, in essence, the Georgia election. All of this is coming at a time amid economic crises, lockdown orders, and the persisting issues that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought with 2020. If this election ends with the victories of both Democratic candidates in Georgia, the future of cannabis among many things will be much brighter in 2021. 

Author: Olivia Hartman | Policy Analyst, Allison Margolin Esq. (Margolin & Lawrence)

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