It's looking more and more likely that the US government could finally take a serious step towards cannabis reform this year, especially now that President-elect Joe Biden has nominated a second cannabis advocate to his Cabinet.
Last week, Biden announced that he was nominating Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo for Secretary of Commerce. If confirmed by the Senate, the governor would take the reins of the US Department of Commerce, setting new policies to promote economic growth and creating federal business regulations. And, as an advocate of cannabis reform, Raimondo could well use this position to help loosen federal restrictions against state-legal weed businesses.
Last year, Gov. Raimondo joined governors from several neighboring states in a call to bring legal weed to the East Coast. After Massachusetts began selling legal pot in 2018, the governors of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island began discussing plans to coordinate their own states’ legalization efforts. Conservative lawmakers managed to stamp out these legalization plans, but New Jersey voters were eventually able to legalize adult-use during the 2020 election.
Before she received her cabinet nomination, Raimondo promised that she would push for legalization again in 2021. The governor originally included a cannabis legalization plan in her 2020 state budget proposal, but lawmakers set it aside to focus on the pandemic. In a recent interview with The Providence Journal, the governor said that she believes “it is only a matter of time” until Rhode Island legalizes adult-use. "I think we should do it.”
In her bid to bring legal weed to her home state, Raimondo proposed a unique solution that is more akin to Canada's state-run cannabis industry than the private markets seen in other adult-use states. In her budget proposal, the governor recommended that the state government should control all aspects of cannabis production and sales, rather than allowing private companies to do it. Doing so would “allow the state to control distribution, prevent youth consumption, and protect public health,” Raimondo explained, Marijuana Moment reports.
Raimondo is now the second notable cannabis advocate to be nominated for Biden's cabinet. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has been nominated to head the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has previously expressed his support for cannabis reform. And while the HHS cannot directly put an end to the feds' war against weed, the agency can draft scientific reviews that could force the Justice Department to reconsider its senseless prohibition of cannabis.
But although Raimondo's appointment to the Cabinet may be good news for federal cannabis reform, it's also possible that it will be bad news for Rhode Island's own efforts at weed reform. If the Senate confirms Raimondo as commerce secretary, Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee will take over the governorship of the country's smallest state. And although McKee is apparently amenable to medical marijuana and decriminalization, he has also said that he is opposed to full adult-use legalization.