Senate Democrats Introduce Sweeping Federal Cannabis Legalization Bill

Joe Evans
Joe Evans - Content Writer

Jul 16 2021 - 5 min read

This week, leading Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) revealed the first draft of a sweeping federal cannabis legalization bill that could change the cannabis industry and transform access.

What is the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act?

If passed, this comprehensive 163-page bill will federally deschedule cannabis, expunge prior convictions, allow people to petition for resentencing, maintain the authority of states to set their own marijuana policies, and remove and reverse the War on Drug-era legal punishments and penalties attached to cannabis due to outdated and racist Nixon administration policies.

We here at Leafwell have gone over this bill with a fine-tooth comb and will be presenting all of the important details for our readers below for your convenience. After all, better understanding the in’s and out’s of this proposed bill will go a long way to understanding what exactly it will change, how those changes will affect current states that have legalized medical use, recreational use, or both, and what the role federal government will take in the regulation and sale of legal cannabis if passed.

Daniel Torres Esq., Leafwell’s In-House Counsel, reviewed the Act and says:

The bill is far from perfect, but it’s good. It’s probably the best cannabis-related piece of legislation in the history of the United States.

So without further delay, let’s get right into the key takeaways of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.

Cannabis Would No Longer Be Considered a Schedule 1 Drug

If passed, this bill would require that the Attorney General remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, a move that researchers, cannabis legalization and criminal justice reform advocates, and progressive legislators have long pushed for.

So why exactly is that so important? Well, as the law currently stands, the only thing preventing mature legal cannabis markets like California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington from exporting beyond state lines is that Schedule 1 designation. If that was lifted, states like Oregon that have massive excesses of cannabis would be able to export that access to other recreationally legal states. Essentially the lifting of this designation would allow for the creation of state-by-state cannabis trade, something that would benefit both recreational and medical consumers alike. And that’s not to mention how significant an impact this move would have on criminal convictions for cannabis users.

Prison, Prison Cell, Jail, Crime, Prisoner, Criminal.
Source

The DEA Would No Longer Have Regulatory Authority Over Cannabis

While this move might just seem symbolic on the surface, in reality, it’s incredibly important for the overall mainstream acceptance of legal cannabis here in the U.S.

Taking the Drug Enforcement Administration out of the equation when it comes to cannabis is a huge step in the right direction. Not only would it take another important step towards removing law enforcement from the equation when it comes to cannabis and its consumers, but it would hand the regulatory authority when it comes to cannabis over to agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

That opens the door much wider to more federally funded research into cannabis, which goes a long way to helping state-level medical cannabis programs get a better understanding of proper dosage, effects, and effectiveness on symptoms for specific illnesses for medical patients.

Expands Research Opportunities, Access to Newly Established Grants

One of the most vital and often overlooked key factors when it comes to medical cannabis is how much researchers have been able to understand about the way cannabis works in the human body, the effect it can have on a wide variety of illnesses, and how various cannabinoids and terpenes interact with our endocannabinoid system with so little federally approved and funded research. This bill will change all of that.

This legislation will direct the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a “review of federal laws, regulations, and policies, to identify additional areas in need of change, including a study on replacing the term ‘marijuana’ and ‘marihuana’ with ‘cannabis’ through the U.S. Code and regulations,” charge the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) with compiling demographic data on “business owners and employees in the cannabis industry” to improve and inform social justice efforts, and require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to work with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on ways to promote research into cannabis impacts on people and communities.

On top of that research, the bill establishes three different grants. Per Marijuana Moment:

One would “fund nonprofits that provide services to individuals adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, such as job training, reentry services and legal aid, among other services,” according to the summary. It would be distributed through a new Cannabis Justice Office under the Justice Department.

Another would “provide funding to eligible states and localities to make loans to assist small businesses in the cannabis industry owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals” through the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Finally, the Equitable Licensing Grant Program would “provide funding to eligible states and localities to implement cannabis licensing programs that minimize barriers for individuals adversely affected by the War on Drugs.”

“To be eligible for these SBA grants, states and localities must take steps to create an automatic process to expunge criminal records for cannabis offenses and violations for individuals under criminal supervision for cannabis offenses,” the summary says.

Bolster and Reaffirms Consumers’ Rights When It Comes to Cannabis

Medical cannabis patients have long been in a battle against the federal government to be able to enjoy the full array of their rights as Americans. Since the early days of medical cannabis legalization and still today, medical cannabis patients have to deal with legal grey areas when it comes to their status as patients when it comes to issues like employment, gun ownership, traveling, and even attending public schools. The language in this new bill goes a long way to helping those fights come to an end.

From a social justice standpoint, this bill ensures that nobody can be denied federal benefits due to the use or possession of marijuana or for a conviction for a cannabis offense.

On top of that, the bill would permit physicians with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to issue recommendations for medical cannabis to veterans, another measure that both progressive legislators and medical cannabis advocates have long lobbied for. Considering the links between Armed Services officials, PTSD, and how cannabis can help, this is a massive step in the right direction.

Overall, the federal legalization of cannabis would go a long way to easing many of the issues that medical patients are dealing with when it comes to their rights, so we consider this to be a major step in the right direction.

biden harris cannabis

The Bottom Line

While this bill is a refreshing breath of fresh air for legal cannabis advocates everywhere and has a lot of encouraging aspects to it, it’s important to note that this isn’t the final version of the bill.

It’s likely that the political posturing and games that will need to be played to get this to a vote will lead to some changes in the bill. The White House has already made a point to make it clear that the Biden administration is lukewarm at best about the idea of nationwide legalization, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki telling the press that President Biden remains opposed to the reform. Not to mention, the Democrats who proposed the bill are still looking for input on the final version of the bill.

Here’s an overview of some of the main points that they are seeking comment on:

  • Measuring the potency of cannabis products, the overlap of definitions for hemp and marijuana, regulations for synthetic THC, regulatory responsibilities for various federal agencies, and FDA funding.
  • Coordinating federal and state law enforcement responsibilities for cannabis, state “primacy regarding cannabis regulation” and interstate commerce.
  • Balancing efforts to reduce barriers to entry to the marijuana industry while mitigating the influence of illicit cannabis operators.
  • Determining whether cannabis products should go through a pre-market review before being marketed.
  • How to deal with international treaty obligations with respect to marijuana.

Interested parties are encouraged to submit comments on these and other issues to Cannabis_Reform@finance.senate.gov by September 1.

Written by
Joe Evans
Joe Evans

Joe Evans is a journalist, writer, editor and contributor for Leafwell. He has, to date, more than 5,000 articles published online under his byline on topics like cannabis, local and National news, politics, automotive news, sports, pop culture and even a cult.

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