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Corporate Weed's Top CEOs Lose Hope for Federal Legalization in the US This Year
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When the dudes at the most powerful global weed firms drop their heads because they believe federal legalization isn't happening, it's safe to assume they're probably right.
Published on November 27, 2021

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You know hope is tanking when corporate executives aren’t paying lip service to the public about the pink elephant in the room: Weed legalization. Eight CEOs from the world’s largest cannabis firms told Business Insider that they have little hope for federal cannabis legalization in the United States this year. They are pinning their big-money dreams on expanding into European markets, access to banking services, and the state-by-state markets that continue to open up. 

Miguel Martin, the CEO of Aurora Cannabis (market valuation $1.4 billion), said that the dreams of legalization in the US are squashed — not just for this year, but likely for the near future, too. "Contrary to what many will say, legalization isn't happening in the US anytime soon.” He added that his Canadian cannabis corporation might as well set its sights on European markets, like Germany and the Netherlands, while it waits for the US to open up. 

The seemingly all-white — and certainly all-male — panel of weed’s corporate heavyweights represent companies that operate in certain US states, Canada, and other countries. Many of them expressed hope that the feds would open access for cannabis companies to banking services. (Congress passed an amendment in September’s defense legislation, but it’s not clear if the Senate will sign on.)

"We continue to believe that the SAFE Banking Act is the least contentious and most supported aspect of the larger bill or bills that have been proposed," said the CEO of $6.9 billion-valued Curaleaf Joseph Bayern said. "So we're optimistic."

Bayern also expressed excitement over the cannabis market in northeastern states, including New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut — all of which passed significant legalization measures in 2020.

But of course, the golden ticket for the big boys is a federal cannabis market that doesn’t hinder corporate productivity with state-specific regulation. They’re certainly not the only ones who want to see the United States lift its racially-motivated war on weed, but reasons for the legalization delay are complex. One issue at play is too many legislative options. A bill that passed through Congress last year likely won’t gain traction in the Senate this year because US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer presented his own rival version of the legislation. 

Such is the standstill among Democrats on cannabis policy that even Republicans have jumped into the game, hot on the tail of news that 60 percent of their party’s members are in favor of weed legalization. South Carolina representative Nancy Mace introduced an initiative that would direct federal agencies to regulate cannabis similarly to alcohol, yet eschews many of the restorative justice measures that Democrats have proposed to begin fixing the damage brought on by Drug War policing. (The Republican Party of South Carolina was quick to issue a disavowal of the plan, however.)

Weedmaps CEO Chris Beals hailed this “interesting” development in his interview with Insider. “I think it's one thing for [cannabis reform] to come up as a topic in the general election, but I think we're going to start to hear Republican candidates compare and contrast their cannabis positions in the primaries," Beals said. "That's never really been a thing that happened before, and I think that's going to be really interesting to see."

Caitlin Donohue
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Caitlin Donohue is a Bay Area-raised, Mexico City-based cannabis writer and author of She Represents: 44 Women Who Are Changing Politics and the World. Her weekly show Crónica on Radio Nopal explores Mexican marijuana culture and politics in the prohibition era. Follow Caitlin on IG @byrdwatch.
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