Federal Cannabis Legislation: What You Need to Know

It seems commonplace that among the main news stories of the day, is a proposed federal congressional bill addressing cannabis reform. There are at least 10 right now with the most promising ones featuring bipartisan support. “Marijuana decriminalization may be one of the very few issues upon which bipartisan agreement can still be reached in this session,” said Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), adding “it ought to be crystal clear to everyone that our laws have not accomplished their goals.”

The two main strategies to end cannabis prohibition in the U.S. involve either legalizing at the federal level or creating immunity for states that pass their own legalization laws.

SAFE Banking Act

The SAFE Banking Act (H.R. 1595) would allow banks to work with the cannabis industry in legal states. This bill is unique because it has bipartisan support and it’s being moved along via committee hearing by Senate Banking Committee Chair Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) whose home state completely outlaws cannabis. Once opposed to any hearings due to the federal illegality of cannabis, Sen. Crapo has reconsidered. “We now need to, I think, move forward and see if there’s some way we can draft legislation that will deal with the issue,” said Crapo, according to Leafly News.

“Senator Crapo’s willingness to hold a hearing recently on the SAFE Banking Act was very encouraging,” Michael Correia, director of government relations for the National Cannabis Industry Association, told Marijuana Moment. “We’re thrilled to learn that he is open to solving this important issue and we are looking forward to working with the senator,” he added.

The STATES Act

Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States, or The STATES Act (S. 3032), sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), would amend the Controlled Substances Act and exempts state-approved marijuana activity from federal enforcement. In other words, states with a medical, adult use, or combined program could operate without ever fearing federal interference. The bill was first introduced in 2018 and reintroduced in 2019 with Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) signing on as a co-sponsor. The STATES Act was in response to the rescindment of the Cole memo, which President Obama created to protect legal cannabis state from federal interference.

However, there are those who believe the bill stops short of addressing racial and social matters. “We need to reinvest in those individuals and those communities that have been disproportionately impacted [by marijuana prohibition],” Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, said. “The STATES Act does not do that, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m opposed to it.”

The two main strategies to end cannabis prohibition in the U.S. involve either legalizing at the federal level or creating immunity for states that pass their own legalization laws.
The MORE Act

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or The MORE Act, co-sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), assuages those concerns. Considered the most comprehensive cannabis bill yet, it takes a three-pronged approach that addresses descheduling, state-control, and racial and social justice. If passed, the bill would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, allow states to write their own policies, and require cannabis convictions to be expunged or resentenced.

It creates further protections from the federal government, including prohibiting federal agencies from denying benefits to people found using marijuana and preventing immigrants from being deported for a cannabis-related conviction. The bill also sets up a 5 percent cannabis tax to establish grants for minorities and low-income communities.

“Racially motivated enforcement of marijuana laws has disproportionately impacted communities of color,” Nadler said in a statement. “It’s past time to right this wrong nationwide and work to view marijuana use as an issue of personal choice and public health, not criminal behavior.”

Amendment to H.R. 3055

This one is perhaps the most significant because it’s an Amendment that passed in the House of Representatives and is attached to an appropriations bill to fund parts of the federal government for fiscal year 2020. Specifically, the Amendment prevents the Department of Justice from interfering with state cannabis laws–covering D.C. and U.S. territories–including those allowing recreational use, cultivation and sales. It was approved by a floor vote of 267-165 with bipartisan support and is sponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Tom McClintock (R-CA).

“This is the most significant vote on marijuana reform policy that the House of Representatives has ever taken,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. “Today’s action by Congress highlights the growing power of the marijuana law reform movement and the increasing awareness by political leaders that the policy of prohibition and criminalization has failed.”

Conclusion

Each of these pieces of proposed legislation come with “even if” or “even though” caveats. For example, even if the MORE Act were to pass the House, it would have a tougher time in the Senate. Even though the House approved the amendment that prevents the Department of Justice from interfering with state cannabis laws, will it achieve passage in the Senate and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who, though a champion of legalizing hemp, is opposed to cannabis? Still, the historic amount of cannabis bills and resolutions being drafted and considered by both chambers speaks to progress of cannabis legislation.