Congressional Democrats are preparing a comprehensive set of initiatives aimed at decriminalizing marijuana that they plan to take action on this spring.
Federal proposals seek to create 21st century banking to make nearly $18 billion and clear the criminal records of thousands of marijuana offenders.
“The growing bipartisan momentum for cannabis reform shows that Congress is ready to make progress in 2022, and we are closer than ever to bringing our cannabis policies and laws in line with the American people,” Representatives said. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) wrote in a memo to the Cannabis Caucus in Congress on Thursday.
Nearly 70 percent of Americans — including nearly half of Republicans — support marijuana legalization, the memo noted, citing 2020 Gallup Poll. Lawmakers last year noted the accession of five states to allowing recreational cannabis – New Mexico, New Jersey, Virginia and Connecticut – as well as a “wealth of political ideas” in Congress “aimed at ending the cannabis ban.”
The memo is a roadmap for dozens of bills that seek to reimagine the federal government’s role in every aspect of the cannabis industry, with some measures receiving Republican support.
Bills such as the Marijuana Reinvestment and Elimination (MORE) Act, sponsored by Lee and Blumenauer, seek to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and clear records for those convicted of marijuana use.
Other bills permitting the development of a legal market for cannabis in Washington, D.C.; enshrine the legality of state cannabis programs and the possibility that they cover even federal workers; and providing cannabis research trials for PTSD, with retaliation prohibited by the Veterans Administration against physicians who recommend the substance.
Another major bill, the Safe Banking Services Act (SAFE) was sponsored by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), would allow the cannabis industry to access a range of financial services such as business loans, checking accounts, and credit card processing.
“Under current law, financial institutions banking for legitimate cannabis businesses that are licensed under state laws are subject to criminal prosecution under several federal laws such as ‘aiding and abetting’ a federal crime and money laundering,” Perlmutter explained about the bill.
This has forced the cannabis industry in most states where it is legal to do business – totaling billions of dollars – almost entirely in cash, resulting in high-profile burglaries and occasional murders.
Then there are bills like the bipartisan Medical Marijuana Research Act, co-sponsored by Blumenauer and Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), among others. The measure would remove restrictions on federal researchers studying marijuana “and ensure researchers have access to the same high-quality product that consumers are using,” according to the memo.
Taken together, the bills in broad strokes show what marijuana liberalization politics could look like: a modern, diverse, and organized industry of small producers — not dominated by giants like alcohol and tobacco.
“For countries that are making progress in cannabis reform, we must ensure fair access to the growing cannabis industry,” the memo reads. “In addition to investing in the communities hardest hit by the war on drugs, it is critical that states stimulate equal opportunities to participate in the cannabis industry, especially for people of color.
This matches the statements of senators such as Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.). “We don’t want the big guys to come in,” Schumer told former New York Society member Tremaine Wright on a panel discussion on the Black Enterprise news outlet.
Given the long history of uneven enforcement of cannabis crime, Schumer said, “in communities like the one you represent in Brooklyn, where I’m from — for the big boys to come in and make all the money nonsense.”
The Senate plans to consider the bill this spring, according to Tom Rodgers of Carlyle Consulting, a lobbyist for cannabis legalization and Native American civil rights who has been in contact with Schumer’s office.
“We’re going to have a big debate next year about cannabis, and they want to have that discussion before midterm,” Rodgers said, adding that “nearly every Senate committee is going to receive a piece of this bill,” including the committees focused on banking reform and criminal justice. .
As House and Senate Democrats look to move sweeping legislation, one element was left out of the discussion, according to Rodgers: protecting Native Americans who use medical marijuana on tribal lands.
A home on the grounds of Picuris Pueblo in New Mexico was raided in November by agents of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They confiscated an estimated one year’s worth of marijuana from a man registered with the government’s medical marijuana program, The Associated Press reported.
Rodgers said a similar raid would not have occurred on non-tribal land, due to New Mexico’s medical marijuana program. Another scale from Blumenauer and Rep. Tom McClintock (Republic of California), first passed by the House in 2019 as part of the appropriations bill, also prohibits any Department of Justice funding for marijuana enforcement in defiance of the state’s marijuana law.
A new version of the bill makes it clear that it also refers to Indian tribes as well, which means that tribal marijuana markets, such as the Oglala Sioux markets in Pine Ridge, will have the same authority as the surrounding states.
These amendments leave a large gap, Rodgers says, leaving Native American consumers and businesses vulnerable. He said Blumenauer’s amendments cover only actions by the Department of Justice, which delegates powers to states. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior, and the tribal lands it administers are federal – “locally dependent states”, according to long legal agreements.
“Native Americans want to be treated — the first Americans — they don’t want to be treated differently, undesirably, and disproportionately again when it comes to the enforcement of laws and benefits in this country,” Rodgers said.
Much of the pressure for reform comes from both parties. On Thursday, Representative Dave Joyce (R-Ohio) and Don Young (R-Alaska) sent a letter to Biden and Vice President Harris urging them to change the severity of cannabis listed or “scheduled” under the Federal Controlled Substances Act, and distinguish it from “more dangerous drugs like fentanyl, morphine, methadone and cocaine.”
Joyce wrote that the restrictions imposed by marijuana’s place as a Schedule I drug “place the United States well behind many of our international partners and scientific competitors” from Ireland and the United Kingdom to South Korea and Israel.
“For the sake of researchers, medical professionals, and patients across the United States who continue to lose access to lifesaving treatments and data every day #cannabis remains under control,” Joyce wrote on Twitter.
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