Congress to pass marijuana reform this spring

(The Hill) – Congressional Democrats are bracing for a broad round of marijuana decriminalization initiatives they plan to take this spring.

The federal proposals aim to establish 21st century banking services for the nearly $ 18 billion industry and clear the criminal records of thousands of marijuana offenders.

“The growing bipartisan momentum for cannabis reform shows that Congress is ready to move forward in 2022, and we are closer than ever to aligning our cannabis policies and laws with the American people,” said Earl Blumenauer ( D-Ore.) And Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) Wrote Thursday in a note to the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.

Nearly 70% of Americans – about half of them Republicans – support the legalization of marijuana, the note notes, citing a 2020 Gallup poll. Last year, five states joined in allowing recreational cannabis – New Mexico, New Jersey, Virginia and Connecticut – as well as “a host of political ideas” in Congress “aimed at ending the ban on cannabis,” lawmakers noted.

The memo is a roadmap to dozens of bills that seek to reinvent the role of the federal government in all aspects of the cannabis industry, with some measures receiving GOP support.

Bills like the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, sponsored by Lee and Blumenauer, seek to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substance Act and purge the records of those convicted of using marijuana.

Other bills would allow the development of a legal cannabis market in Washington, DC; enshrine the legality of state cannabis programs and the possibility that they even cover federal workers; and schedule cannabis research trials for PTSD, while prohibiting Veterans Administration retaliation against doctors who recommend the substance.

Another key bill, the SAFE Banking Act 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 providing banking services to legitimate and licensed cannabis businesses under state law are subject to criminal prosecution under several federal statutes such as ‘aiding and abetting’ a federal crime. and money laundering, ”Perlmutter’s commentator says of the bill.

This has forced the cannabis industry into most states where it is legal to do business – totaling billions of dollars – almost entirely in cash, which at times has led to high profile thefts and 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 move would remove restrictions on federal researchers studying marijuana “and ensure researchers have access to the same high-quality product that consumers use,” the note said.

Taken together, the bills outline what a policy of liberalizing marijuana could look like: a modern, diverse, and regulated industry of small producers – not dominated by giants like alcohol and tobacco.

“For states making progress in cannabis reform, we must ensure that access to the growing cannabis industry is equitable,” the memo reads. “In addition to investing in the communities most affected by the war on drugs, it is crucial that states encourage equal opportunities to participate in the cannabis industry, especially for people of color.

This matches statements by senators like Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.). “We don’t want the big boys in there,” Schumer told former New York Assembly member Tremaine Wright during a panel discussion on Black Enterprise media.

Given the long history of uneven enforcement of cannabis-related crimes “in communities like the one you represent in Brooklyn, where I’m from, bringing in the big boys and making all the money just doesn’t make sense.” , Schumer said.

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 huge debate next year on cannabis, and they want to have that debate before mid-session,” Rodgers said, adding that “virtually every Senate committee will get a piece of this bill.” including panels. focused on banking and criminal justice reform.

As Democrats in the House and Senate seek to push through sweeping legislation, one element has been left out, Rodgers said: the protection of Native Americans using medical marijuana on tribal lands.

A home on Picuris Pueblo lands in New Mexico was raided in November by officers from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They confiscated an estimated one-year quantity of marijuana from a man enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program, the Associated Press reported.

A similar raid would not have taken place on non-tribal land, Rodgers said, due to New Mexico’s medical marijuana program. Another measure by Blumenauer and Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), First passed by the House in 2019 as part of the appropriation bill, also bars all funding to the Justice Department for enforcement. of marijuana in defiance of state marijuana law.

A new version of the bill explicitly states that it also refers to Indian tribes, meaning tribal marijuana markets, like the Oglala Sioux’s in Pine Ridge, would be given the same authority as surrounding states.

But these amendments leave a big void, Rodgers says, effectively leaving Native American consumers and entrepreneurs vulnerable. The Blumenauer amendments only cover the actions of the Justice Department, which delegates powers to states, he said. The Office of Indian Affairs falls under the Home Office, and the tribal lands it controls are federal – “dependent nations of the land,” under long legal conventions.

“Native Americans want to be treated – the first Americans – don’t want to be treated disparately, unfavorably, disproportionately again when it comes to enforcing the laws and benefits of this country,” Rodgers said.

Much of the pressure for reform is bipartisan. Representatives Dave Joyce (R-Ohio) and Don Young (R-Alaska) sent a letter to Biden and Vice President Harris on Thursday urging them to change the severity with which cannabis is listed, or “scheduled,” under federal control. Substances Act, distinguishing it from “much more dangerous drugs such as fentanyl, morphine, methadone and cocaine”.

The restrictions imposed by the placement of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, Joyce wrote, “place the United States far behind many of our international partners and scientific competitors,” Ireland and the United Kingdom. to South Korea and Israel.

“For the sake of researchers, healthcare professionals and patients across the United States who continue to lose access to therapies and life-saving data every day, #cannabis remains over-controlled,” Joyce wrote on Twitter, “I’ll keep asking.”

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