While action on the MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement) Act is on hold in the Senate, another measure has been introduced in the House that would effectively enact federal cannabis decriminalization. The bill is called The Common Sense Cannabis Reform for Veterans, Small Businesses, and Medical Professionals Act (sorry, there’s no catchy acronym), and was filed by the bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chaired by Representatives Don Young (R) of Alaska, Dave Joyce (R) of Ohio, Barbara Lee (D) of California and Earl Blumenauer (D) of Oregon. Reps. Young and Joyce are the bill’s formal sponsors.
More focused than the MORE Act, this bill would remove cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act, require new regulations for cannabis similar to those on alcohol, and provide federal preemptive protection to financial institutions and other businesses in states that have not yet legalized cannabis so they can service legal cannabis companies. It would also allow Veterans Administration physicians to legally prescribe medical cannabis.
The bill also contains a mandate for two new cannabis research studies to be conducted by the National Institutes of Health. One would research the effects of cannabis on pain management, and the other would attempt to codify cannabis impairment. What the bill does not include are social justice provisions similar to what the MORE Act contained, which were not favored by a majority of Republican representatives.
In his official statement, Joyce says, “With more than 40 states taking action on this issue, it’s past time for Congress to recognize that continued cannabis prohibition is neither tenable nor the will of the American electorate. My legislation answers the American people’s call for change and addresses our States’ need for clarity by creating an effective federal regulatory framework for cannabis that will help veterans, support small businesses and their workers, allow for critical research and tackle the opioid crisis, all while respecting the rights of States to make their own decisions regarding cannabis policies that are best for their constituents.”
In the meantime, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D) of New York is continuing to work on his promised comprehensive cannabis reform bill, being developed with fellow Democratic senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon. The bill is expected to be a combination of three previous bills that failed to make it through Congress in the 2019-20 session: Schumer’s Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act, and Wyden’s Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act. Then there is also continued movement on the SAFE Banking Act, which the House passed last year and has been reintroduced in the now Democratic-controlled Senate.
Given Vice President Kamala Harris’s recent statement that cannabis reform just isn’t a priority right now in the Biden administration, it’s difficult to predict just when, how, or even if the White House will back any of these bills. What does seem true is that, in Schumer’s words in a recent interview, “At some point, we’re going to move forward, period.”