A pair of congressional Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill to federally legalize marijuana, protect banks that service state-legal cannabis business and ensure that military veterans are specifically permitted to use marijuana in compliance with state laws.
The Common Sense Cannabis Reform for Veterans, Small Businesses, and Medical Professionals Act is being sponsored by Reps. David Joyce (R-OH) and Don Young (R-AK).
The main crux of the legislation is to federally deschedule cannabis—and it’s similar to past bipartisan proposals—but this one goes a few steps further with language on legal protections and mandates for federal studies into medical cannabis. It does not contain social justice provisions to repair the past harms of the war on drugs, however.
“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,” Joyce, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus (CCC), said in a press release.
Under the proposal, marijuana would be removed from the Controlled Substances Act, clearing states to enact legalization. Cannabis could be imported and exported across states, though transporting marijuana to states where such activity is unlawful would remain federally prohibited.
Two agencies—the Food and Drug Administration and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which falls under the Treasury Department—would be responsible for developing regulations for cannabis. Those rules would have to be “similar to federal rules regulating alcohol,” the text of the bill states, and they would have to be issued within one year of enactment.
“For too long, the federal government’s outdated cannabis policies have stood in the way of both individual liberty and a state’s 10th Amendment rights,” Young, also co-chair of the CCC, said. “It is long past time that these archaic laws are updated for the 21st Century.”
Another provision of the measure stipulates that financial institutions that work with state-legal marijuana businesses cannot be penalized by federal regulators, which is similar to a standalone bill that cleared the House last month.
Further, the legislation specifies that military veterans are able to use, possess and transport medical cannabis in compliance with state law. It’s not clear why that would be necessary if marijuana is federally descheduled, but it’s an added layer of protection for that population and is consistent with other recent standalone bills that have been introduced this Congress.
It also says that physicians can discuss medical marijuana use with veterans if legal states and they can “recommend, complete forms for, or register veterans for participating in a treatment program involving medical marijuana.”
“This bill takes significant steps to modernize our laws by removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and allowing the VA to prescribe medical cannabis to veterans, in addition to finally permitting state-legal cannabis businesses to utilize traditional financial services,” Young said. “I call on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to stand with us in this crucial effort.”
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Finally, the proposal calls on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to “conduct or support a study on the effects of medical marijuana on individuals in pain or who are impaired” and issue a report on its findings within 180 of the study’s completion. NIH would also have to study “the relationship between treatment programs involving medical marijuana that are approved by states, the access of individuals to such programs, and a reduction in opioid abuse.”
Joyce said that his bill “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.”
“I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this bill signed into law so that we can enact sensible and meaningful cannabis reform that will improve lives and livelihoods,” he said.
While ending prohibition is a primary goal of marijuana reform advocates, it stands to reason that this legislation will face pushback for its lack of provisions promoting social equity and reinvesting in communities most impacted by cannabis criminalization.
A bill that’s being drafted by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is expected to contain such components, and the leader has said that the bill will be filed “shortly.”
The trio formally started their reform efforts by holding a meeting earlier this year with representatives from a variety of advocacy groups to gain feedback on the best approach to the reform.
On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduced his legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the chamber last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control.
Read the text of the federal marijuana descheduling bill below:
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.