There’s a narrow window for federal cannabis legalization, according to politicians speaking at this year’s SXSW conference in Austin, Texas.
The international conference attracts people from around the world for topics ranging from cutting-edge tech to music and film. This year, the heavily attended conference continued to host a cannabis track of sessions, while adding a psychedelics track for the first time.
During the cannabis track, consultant Andrew DeAngelo challenged his panelists for answers on why federal legalization had not seen any progress. He was joined by Democrat and long-time cannabis legislation advocate Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Republican Rep. Nancy Mace.
Blumenauer said he was more optimistic than he had been eight months ago. He was critical of Sens. Booker and Schumer for not being able to bring a vote on measures passed by the House, saying that their desire for perfect legislation resulted in nothing getting accomplished. He believes they have learned their lesson and are more willing to compromise this time around.
“I believe Biden carried Arizona because cannabis was on the ballot,” Blumenauer told the audience, which demonstrates the importance of cannabis with voters.
He also said he feels positive that Biden issued pardons for some incarcerated for cannabis, which is a shift from where he had been in the past. In addition, Blumenaur noted that Biden initiated a review of cannabis scheduling, giving hop that descheduling is still a possibility.
Small Window for Action
Mace was less positive, saying, “I don’t have a lot of hope anything will happen this year.”
If anything will happen, she said it would need to be done before June.
“After June, it will be about the presidential election,” Mace said. If that doesn’t happen, she expects it could be another two years.
But, she noted, President Biden could use it as a boost for his reelection. In other words, he could employ rescheduling as a way to get more votes.
On a positive note, Mace mentioned that the Biden administration has reached out to her office, which she was pleasantly surprised about.
While Mace doubts that cannabis would be descheduled, she does expect it to be moved down to a schedule III drug.
She also vaguely suggested that some forces were working against descheduling or rescheduling and that “Big Pharma” could be working against cannabis – but she didn’t elaborate on that idea.
The two politicians often agreed with each other, highlighting that their competing bills had many similarities. But Mace said that there was a general inability to work together on issues in D.C.
“The energy is there at the voter level, but there’s no willingness to compromise in D.C.,” she said.
Additional Highlights from Austin
Several of the other cannabis panels at SXSW appeared to be attended by people from nonlegal states or countries hoping to get more information about the industry. Most of the cannabis industry insiders straddled the fence between talking about the cannabis recession and trying to remain upbeat for the audience of “canna-curious.”
Bankruptcies and plunging stock valuations, however, created a difficult backdrop to cheerlead the industry.
On the psychedelic track, there was a great deal of curiosity among the conference attendees about the industry in general. While one session focused on the hype of psychedelics, there were also conversations from athletes to tech leaders.
Last year’s SXSW conference was still struggling to recover from the pandemic hangover; this year, it was game on.
Most of this year’s brands took a Davos-like approach (so-called for the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland, each year). That conference is better known for indoor space takeovers, such as “House of Canada, rather than splashy outdoor installations.
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