Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Canvassing the parameters of possible federal marijuana reforms

Ccc_SQUARERolling Stone has this new extended article headlined "Pot for All: How Congress Is Trying to Make Weed Legal," which has a subheadline that somewhat better describes its coverage: "From decriminalization to opening up the banking industry, both sides of Congress are preparing cannabis bills – but with much different approaches.  Here are excerpts from the piece:

Over the past decade, marijuana legalization has happened at break-neck speed at the state and local level. And yet, pot-related reforms have moved glacially at the federal level, especially since prohibitionist Jeff Sessions was confirmed as attorney general. But his staunch opposition and attempt to roll back Obama-era protections for local marijuana businesses has actually attracted new support to a flurry of marijuana related bills that have been picking up support in this Congress.

There are more than 40 cannabis-related bills floating around the House of Representatives alone in this Congress, along with countless others in the Senate. That's a hard map to navigate, so below is Rolling Stone's guide to the kinds of marijuana bills that have the most support from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Straight Decriminalization

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer turned heads last month when he endorsed marijuana decriminalization, but he was slow to get to the party. Vermont's Bernie Sanders was there before him, along with most every Democratic senator floated as a potential 2020 presidential contender, including Sens. Cory Booker (NJ), Kamala Harris (CA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY). Still, the statement from Schumer – who has long vocally opposed recreational marijuana – was witnessed as a dramatic move and is expected to trickle down the ballot to people running for Congress across the nation....

Let the States Decide

In the coming weeks, a bipartisan group of senators plans to drop a bill that will give individual states the right to override the federal prohibition on marijuana, which they say simply codifies what President Trump has allegedly told Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) in private conversations – that the president's fine allowing each individual state to decide their own marijuana laws, which Gardner says is simple federalism....

Make the Focus Medical Testing

Potentially the best chance marijuana legislation has of passing under unified Republican control of Washington is with bipartisan legislative efforts to simply relax the barriers that have been erected around studying marijuana. There was already historic progress on that front when, earlier this month, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018 became the first-ever standalone marijuana bill to make it through a congressional committee. It not only removes barriers to testing marijuana at the Department of Veterans Affairs but also forces officials there to send regular reports to Congress so lawmakers can track whether the VA is taking the testing legislation seriously. While the scope is narrow, pot proponents see the bill as a major breakthrough because, if tests show marijuana is good for veterans, then it could easily translate to the greater public....

Push for Access to Banks

Marijuana businesses are currently locked out of the banking sector, even in states where weed is either recreationally or medicinally legal, and the Small Business Administration recently moved to stop any company involved in this green revolution from receiving loans. Bipartisan efforts are picking up steam to at least make it so marijuana businesses don't have to be all cash, which comes with massive security risks. And without access to capital it's hard to be a player in a capitalistic economy. A slew of bills deal with this issue – some allow marijuana businesses to simply access the banking system, while others go farther, allowing them to get the same tax breaks enjoyed by non-marijuana related businesses.

Finally De-Scheduling Pot

Support is also slowly growing for an effort to completely remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances where it currently sits at Schedule I, alongside LSD and heroin. But the Marijuana Justice Act goes even further and takes aim at the racial disparity that marks American prisons by expunging the records of people convicted of federal marijuana crimes and investing money in communities left blighted by marijuana convictions.

Way back in Fall 2013, I had a knowledgeable and astute guest speaking in my Marijuana Law and Reform seminar predict that federal marijuana reform would happen sometime in the term of the president elected in 2020. I am inclined to still see that prediction as spot-on. (This speaker also in 2013 predicted that term would be the second term for a Prez Clinton, so he did not quite perfectly nail it.)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2018/05/canvassing-the-parameters-of-possible-federal-marijuana-reforms.html

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