Oct 7, 2022 - Economy

Biden move is a boon for cannabis capitalism

Illustration of a cannabis leaf made of money.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

President Biden on Thursday said that he'll ask for a review of whether marijuana should remain classified as a Schedule 1 substance under federal law.

Why it matters: This could be momentous for the upstart U.S. cannabis industry, which has been slowed at every turn by federal prohibitions.

What to know: Most cannabis companies are unable to use federally chartered banks, largely owing to the Schedule 1 designation, and instead are relegated to using state-chartered banks and credit unions.

  • Not only does this limit borrowing opportunities, but it also negatively impacts cannabis companies' abilities to take credit cards and otherwise process payments.
  • A proposed bill called The SAFE Banking Act would help remedy this situation, but Biden's move could help set the conditions for passage.

Other impacts: Removing the Schedule 1 classification also could help more cannabis companies move public stock listings from Canada to the U.S., and also better enable federally funded researchers to study the plant's medicinal benefits.

Caveats: Removing the Schedule 1 classification isn't necessarily synonymous with full legalization in all 50 states.

  • There's no public timetable for when the Departments of Justice and Health & Human Services will begin their reviews, let alone complete them. Nor are the outcomes predetermined.

By the numbers: 330 U.S.-based cannabis companies raised around $3.1 billion in venture capital in 2021, according to research firm PitchBook. The data through late August of this year was a bit more modest, with around $900 million for 109 companies.

Elsewhere: Biden also announced plans to pardon all federal offenses of simple marijuana possession, and called on governors to do the same in their states.

What they're saying: "This is massive. Both for the industry and obviously from a social equity perspective," explains Karan Wadhera, managing partner of cannabis-focused VC firm Casa Verde Capital. "People have been waiting for this ever since Biden took office."

  • Wadhera adds that venture capital has always been comparably scarce for cannabis startups, which helped keep valuations from rising apace tech startups before this year's correction.

The bottom line: Biden's move could spark a ton of new investment in U.S. startups, as a burgeoning industry gets normalized.

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