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Federal Lawmakers Renew Push for Cannabis Reform

by Sarah Cawthon April 30, 2021

A massive shift in cannabis has taken place over the last few years. In just the last six months alone, eight states have legalized medical or adult-use programs: Arizona, New Jersey, Montana, New York, Virginia, New Mexico, Mississippi and South Dakota.  

At the federal level, the House of Representatives recently passed a bill, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Actwhich is a direct response to issues legal cannabis companies face with banking and insuranceThe bill would allow banks to conduct business with cannabis-related companies in states where cannabis is legal without facing consequences while also addressing insurance issues. 

Specifically, the bill is designed to bridge the gap between companies’ legal standing in states and the current illegal status of cannabis at a federal level. The SAFE Banking Act is intended to prohibit federal regulators from punishing financial institutions for the sole reason that they choose to provide services to cannabis businesses, their owners and their employees.

With a 321-101 vote from the House, the bill will now need to pass the Senate and then be signed by the president in order to become law. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has also been working on comprehensive legislation to end the federal ban on the plant for several years and is currently putting together new federal cannabis reform legislation with Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Ron Wyden. So far, they’ve met with representatives from a coalition of cannabis advocacy groups to solicit feedback on what the proposal should include.  

Schumer has pointed to the decade-long experiment with state legalization as evidence that the system works, and the worst fears were never realized. “The legalization of states worked out remarkably well,” he said. “They were a great success. The parade of horrible [things] never came about, and people got more freedom. 

 

 “The burden of this broken system has been disproportionately and dramatically borne by Black and brown Americans, and the poor. It’s past time for change,” Booker added. “Congress has made progress in starting to turn the tide in recent years, and now is a time of great promise.” 

It’s still unclear what their draft Senate cannabis reform bill will entail or when it will be released. However, Schumer has said that lawmakers are in the process of merging different pieces of legislation, which is likely to include his own cannabis descheduling bill that he has filed in the past two Congress sessions. The separate Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act could also be included in the call for reform in the 171th Congress.  

"I am personally for legalization," Schumer said. "And the bill that we'll be introducing is headed in that direction." 

The MORE Act was able to clear the House in 2020 but failed to pass through the Senate. Now, advocates and lawmakers are working to improve upon the bill this session. In the House, Rep. Jerry Nadler plans to reintroduce the bill, which would deschedule cannabis and eliminate federal criminal penalties for cannabis operations and businesses.  

The legislation would also automatically expunge federal cannabis convictions and require judges to remove the sentences of those currently incarcerated for federal cannabis charges upon request. Additionally, it would allow federal public benefits to those with past cannabis convictions.  

In the span of just a few decades, cannabis legalization has gone from a radical issue to one that most Americans embrace. With 68 percent of people in the U.S. approving of cannabis legalization, it’s very clear where the trends are heading. It might take several more years to come to fruition, but efforts from legislators and at the ballot have proven that cannabis legalization is here to stay.  

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