The dust from the 2020 election is finally starting to settle, and more Republicans are beginning to recognize president-elect Joe Biden as the next leader of the free world. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is one of the latest to applaud Biden on his victory. In a recent speech from the Senate floor, the Kentucky Republican finally admitted that his politibro Donald Trump was out.
“Our country has officially a president-elect and a vice president-elect,” McConnell said on Tuesday. “The Electoral College has spoken. So today, I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden.”
But does McConnell’s acceptance of Biden as the new President of the United States mean that he will climb on board the Democratic starship and help the party further its political agenda next year? Does it mean that he will vacate his anti-marijuana attitude and become a steward of all highness as the new administration pushes ahead with cannabis reform?
Meh, probably not. While McConnell could meet the Biden Administration halfway on some crucial issues, we wouldn’t count on him getting too chummy when it comes to legalizing weed. McConnell has said in the past that he has no plans to get behind legislation to change the federal cannabis laws.
“I don’t have any plans to endorse the legalization of marijuana,” McConnell told the press in 2018.
And he hasn’t shown any signs of coming around.
Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill designed to legalize marijuana at the federal level. But McConnell slammed the Democrats for trying to legalize weed at a time when the country is in desperate need of COVID relief. He and other Republicans chastised the Democrats for wanting to establish a legal cannabis market when they should be putting cash in the pockets of individuals and businesses ravaged by the virus. Yet, McConnell failed to mention that he has shot down every COVID relief bill the Democrats have sent his way.
McConnell disapproved of Democrats including marijuana provisions in earlier coronavirus relief bills. In one, he complained that “the word ‘cannabis’ appears in the bill… more times than the word ‘job. He even went as far as to suggest that the Democrats were pushing “a totally unserious effort.” But it was serious. The idea is that marijuana legalization could help the country recover from the loss of jobs and economic decline while creating additional tax revenue.
Nevertheless, President-elect Biden isn’t expected to get too wily about legalizing marijuana in 2021. The incoming administration will focus more on eliminating criminal penalties associated with pot possession and creating more research opportunities that would allow access to weed for medicinal use. It seems unlikely that McConnell, who is presently the gatekeeper to the upper chamber, will side with any of these issues. The word on the street is that he is still too busy trying to see the hemp industry to profitability to accept a competitive commodity like a fully-legal weed market.
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Interestingly, McConnell’s hemp legalization efforts have made it more difficult for law enforcement agencies to bust marijuana offenders nationwide. It now takes expensive laboratory testing to determine what is weed and what is its non-intoxicating cousin. No, he didn’t plan for this to happen. It just did. So, don’t expect him to get too enthusiastic about passing a bill designed to impose less restrictive criminal penalties for America’s petty pot offenders. McConnell still receives lobbying money every year (more than $60K) from the privatized prison industry.
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On the flip side, there’s still a chance that McConnell will not be a deciding factor on Capitol Hill next year. The Democrats still have a chance to dethrone the swamp captain in Georgia’s upcoming runoff elections. Democrats just need to secure those two seats, and McConnell is long gone. If that doesn’t happen, Republican leadership will likely stand in the way of cannabis legislation for the next several years. Unfortunately, McConnell’s public statement congratulating Biden on the presidency is more about appearances than it is indicative of political alignment.