January 13, 2021

Biden’s Commerce Secretary Pick Wants Marijuana Sold In Government-Run Stores

January 13, 2021
Scales of justice made of marijuana leaves.

While the national political landscape is in turmoil, President-Elect Joe Biden is working steadily to select a cabinet built with diversity and, if his picks are confirmed, will usher in some historic ‘firsts’ for America. In an interesting turn of events, Biden’s pick to operate the U.S. Department of Commerce is a governor who wants to fully legalize marijuana, and regulate the sales operation with state-run stores.

President-Elect Biden has officially tapped Governor Gina Raimondo (D), of Rhode Island, for his Commerce Secretary nomination. Once approved by the senate, Raimondo would step into the role of shaping the American business climate and hopefully stimulating economic growth. Raimondo, 49, has degrees from Harvard and Yale Law School and was a Rhodes scholar. She served as a law clerk for a U.S. District Judge before launching her career as a venture capitalist. The firm she co-founded, Point Judith Capital, invested in communications, internet, health care and technology companies. In 2010, she ran a successful campaign and was elected state treasurer, before moving on to become governor in 2014. She won reelection in 2018 but is term-limited and is not eligible to run again.

With Biden taking an unsupportive stance on marijuana legalization, his pick of Raimondo is evidence that the president-elect is taking steps toward diversifying the cabinet of the oval office. Because not only does Raimondo fully support adult use marijuana legalization, she believes that the most safe and efficient way to achieve this is by having a state-run regulatory model for cannabis–in much the same capacity as some states utilize state-run liquor stores. Her rationale, shared in 2019 during a proposed state budget, is that government control of the industry would “allow the state to control distribution, prevent youth consumption, and protect public health.”

It is an interesting take, and not one that is being discussed by many states. The cannabis industry has been thriving in a black market for nearly a century, and most folks on the hill are still learning how to navigate these new waters. Raimondo, however, has decided to drive the boat on this topic of state-run pot stores, and she is providing solid evidence that she has a strong background in business. The potential revenue for the state-run marijuana industry in Rhode Island is an expected $39.6 million in the first full operational year.

In Raimondo’s proposal, adult-use marijuana stores would be run by private contractors. The state of Rhode Island would have jurisdiction over any number of things, including business location, sales prices, product potency and quantity of sales. The state would end up taking 61% of net revenues from the contracted businesses; those dollars would be spent on law enforcement, the state health department, and educators. Although the suggested proposal would bring in needed sources of funding, it is being met with opposition. Even though Raimondo is taking aggressive steps toward legalizing full-on in Rhode Island currently, she didn’t always feel this way about adult recreational use.

Governor Gina Raimondo visits local business.

At first, Raimondo began working with surrounding states’ governors to create a regional approach to legalizing cannabis, and Rhode Island started with medical marijuana. Then in 2019, Raimondo expressed her opinions to her state: that the nation was moving towards adult use legalization, the state’s medical cannabis program had been successful, and it was time to consider full-on recreational marijuana in Rhode Island. Raimondo has since included legal cannabis in her last two proposed budgets. Although some legislators openly oppose this plan, Raimondo stands by her proposal.

She says in an interview with The Providence Journal, “My view: it is only a matter of time. I think we should do it. Yes, I support the state-run model because from all the work we have done it is the most controlled way to do it, arguably the safest, and the way to maximize state revenue.”

Although the proposed commerce secretary wants to earn revenue selling marijuana, she purports to have never used marijuana, and referred to herself as a “super boring governor.” 

President-Elect Biden has placed a range of diversified voices into possible positions of power, and has proven that he is willing to come to the table with a mindset of growth and unification. If Raimondo is appointed, she will have influence over both foreign and domestic trade, and will need to identify ways to foster revenue growth as America finds its way through the pandemic. It isn’t too far-fetched to hope that she will bring this issue into the forefront on the national level, as she has on her state grounds.

Although it is possible Raimondo’s efforts within her state may not translate over to her role on Biden’s cabinet, having a top official whose views on the legalization of cannabis is favorable can only improve the outlook of federal policy as it relates to marijuana laws. We will keep an eye on Governor Raimondo’s headway as she hopefully joins the new cabinet, and keep you updated on any cannabis industry progress moving forward.


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