Does McConnell's exit signal the end of marijuana prohibition?

Mitch McConnell was enthusiastic about the name “Darth Vader”. He led the Republican Senate for 17 years and had outsized influence in the larger Republican Party. Over the past year, he has been plagued by a party split, a dispute with a former president and health problems. So it was only a bit of a surprise that he announced he was stepping down from leadership. Politicians are lining up to take his place and he will have a tough time until he leaves office in November. But does McConnell's exit signal the end of marijuana prohibition?

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McConnell took pride in reshaping the Senate and achieving his personal political goals. As a senator, he and his wife amassed a $35 million fortune while preventing small marijuana businesses from advancing. Born in a different time, McConnell is an old-school conservative who has legal marijuana, LGBT rights, expanded voter access, and enemies for him. As the legal cannabis industry has grown to more than $20 billion state by state and filled state coffers, McConnell has only become more forceful in his stance to block federal legalization.

Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Congresswoman Nancy Mace (R-SC), a strong industry ally, publicly said what everyone is thinking. If McConnell is a no to federal legalization, that's a no. He has blocked the SAFE Banking Act multiple times. When the Senate flipped, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the SAFER Banking Act with a bipartisan group, but it failed due to leadership chaos in the House.

McConnell was okay with going against public opinion when he made policies he thought were right. Federal legalization of marijuana has over 87% public support and veterans groups have called for support for cannabis to help with post-traumatic stress disorder. Both appeals fell on deaf ears of the Grim Reaper. And he seemed content when he won a major battle against the public and voters.

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While his loss is a positive sign for the cannabis industry, there is also a downside. Like the House of Representatives, the Senate could become embroiled in a power play as players reshuffle who is in control. Meaningful legalization could come to a halt without strong, focused leadership to whip out votes. As the Biden administration hesitates to move forward on its campaign promises, the cannabis industry is holding its breath.

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