The Impact Of The Georgia Senate Race on Marijuana Decriminalization

The Jan. 5 Senate races in Georgia have drawn an enormous amount of attention because the outcomes could determine which party controls the United States Senate.  For cannabis consumers and those who favor marijuana decriminalization, that’s a big deal.

Why? Because landmark legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives – controlled by Democrats – would enact marijuana decriminalization at the federal level. However, it must now pass the Senate, and that seems highly unlikely as long as it is controlled by Republicans and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Decriminalization vs Legalization

Even those who don’t usually follow politics have their eyes on this race.

“Marijuana isn’t technically on the ballot in Georgia’s Jan. 5 Senate runoff elections. But it might as well be,” wrote Bloomberg Businessweek. “How the races go will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate, and that could be pivotal for the future of the $17 billion U.S. cannabis industry.”

What’s At Stake For Cannabis in Georgia

Despite the media attention on passage of the act that would decriminalize marijuana, the vote by the Democrat-controlled House was mostly symbolic. No one gives the bill a chance of passing. It’s expected to die in the Senate.

Republicans made that clear when the House passed the bill. They especially opposed parts of the bill that would allow thousands of prisoners incarcerated on marijuana charges to have their sentences reduced and get released early.

Those who favor the bill, and cannabis advocates in general, point out that the War on Drugs since the early 1970s decimated poor communities across the country. Marijuana decriminalization is a social justice issue and a step toward repairing that damage, they argue.

Republican opposition would mean much less if they no longer controlled the Senate. That’s what has made the Georgia races so important.

An Overview of the Georgia Races

The Georgia races features the two current Republican senators – Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue – against Democratic opponents Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively.

None of the candidates won a majority of the vote on Nov. 3. By Georgia law, the state must now hold a runoff election to determine who wins the seats. If Warnock and Ossoff win, it would flip control of the Senate to the Democrats.

In the latest polls on the race, about a month before the election, both Democrats held slight leads. If they go on to win, marijuana decriminalization legislation would likely get reintroduced in the next session of Congress that starts in January.

It’s important to note that the last three Gallup polls, published annually each fall, have shown at least 66% of Americans support marijuana legalization. While he has not come out in support of legalization at the national level, President-Elect Joe Biden has said he does favor marijuana decriminalization.

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