With the 2018 State of Cannabis report from ArcView Market Research, it is clear that cannabis is a $8.5 billion industry with growth predicted to increase in 2019 at 12 percent annually and reach $31 billion by 2025. With an expected 25% jump this year, Congress will be on the hot seat for their decision about cannabis reform which could impact legalization across states and create additional competition for growers like Tilray.
The “federal legalization bill 2021 update” is a topic that has been in the news recently. The Senate and House of Representatives are both set to take up marijuana reform this spring.
Democrats in Congress are preparing a broad series of bills aimed at decriminalizing marijuana, which they want to pass this spring.
The government measures aim to provide the approximately $18 billion marijuana business with 21st-century financial services while also expunging the criminal records of thousands of marijuana offenders.
In a memo to the Congressional Cannabis Caucus on Thursday, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) wrote, “The growing bipartisan momentum for cannabis reform shows that Congress is primed for progress in 2022, and we are closer than ever to bringing our cannabis policies and laws in line with the American people.”
According to a 2020 Gallup survey, about 70% of Americans favor marijuana legalization, including approximately half of Republicans. The legislators observed that the last year saw five states — New Mexico, New Jersey, Virginia, and Connecticut — legalize recreational cannabis, as well as “a multitude of legislative initiatives” before Congress “focused at eliminating cannabis prohibition.”
The letter serves as a blueprint for hundreds of proposals that attempt to redefine the federal government’s involvement in every part of the cannabis sector, with some GOP backing.
Bills like Lee and Blumenauer’s Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act aim to remove cannabis off the Controlled Substances Act and expunge records for anyone convicted of marijuana possession.
Other bills would allow for the development of a legal cannabis market in Washington, D.C.; enshrine the legality of state cannabis programs, including the possibility that they should cover federal employees; and allow for cannabis research trials for PTSD, while prohibiting the Veterans Administration from retaliating against physicians who prescribe the substance.
Another important initiative, Rep. Ed Perlmutter’s (D-Colo.) SAFE Banking Act, would provide the cannabis business access to a variety of financial services, including commercial loans, bank accounts, and credit card processing.
According to Perlmutter’s bill explainer, “Under current law, financial institutions providing banking services to legitimate and licensed cannabis businesses under state laws are subject to criminal prosecution under several federal statutes, including ‘aiding and abetting’ a federal crime and money laundering.”
This has driven the cannabis sector in most places where it is legal to do business nearly completely in cash, resulting in high-profile robberies and killings on occasion.
Then there are legislation like Blumenauer’s and Rep. Andy Harris’s (R-Md.) bipartisan Medical Marijuana Research Act, among others. According to the document, this plan would lift limits on government academics researching marijuana and “guarantee that researchers have access to the same high-grade product as consumers do.”
Taken together, the bills sketch out what a marijuana liberalization strategy may look like in broad strokes: a contemporary, varied, regulated sector controlled by small producers rather than giants like alcohol and tobacco.
“We must assure equal access to the emerging cannabis sector for states making progress on cannabis legalization,” the document argues.
“States must promote equitable opportunity to engage in the cannabis sector, particularly for people of color, in addition to investing in the areas most devastated by the war on drugs.”
Senators including Majority Leader Charles Schumer have made similar claims (D-N.Y.).
In a panel discussion on the news source Black Enterprise, Schumer told former New York Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright, “We don’t want the big guys to come in.”
Given the lengthy history of disproportionate enforcement for cannabis offences “in areas like the one you represent in Brooklyn, where I grew up,” Schumer added, “it makes no sense for the big guys to come in and make all the money.”
According to Tom Rodgers of Carlyle Consulting, a lobbyist for cannabis legalization and Native American civil rights who has been in contact with Schumer’s office, the Senate hopes to take up the measure this spring.
“We’re going to have a tremendous discussion on cannabis next year, and they want to have that debate before the midterm elections,” Rodgers said, adding that “nearly every committee in the Senate will get a portion of this bill,” including banking and criminal justice reform committees.
According to Rodgers, although Democrats in the House and Senate are working to pass comprehensive legislation, one issue has been left out of the conversation: safeguards for Native Americans who use medicinal marijuana on tribal property.
In November, investigators from the Bureau of Indian Affairs searched a home on Picuris Pueblo territory in New Mexico. According to the Associated Press, they seized a year’s worth of marijuana from a guy registered in the state’s medicinal marijuana program.
Because of New Mexico’s medicinal marijuana program, a comparable search would not have occurred on non-tribal grounds, according to Rodgers. Another bill introduced by Blumenauer and Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) and first approved by the House in 2019 as part of the appropriations bill forbids the Department of Justice from receiving any funds for marijuana enforcement in violation of state marijuana laws.
A revised version of the law makes it clear that it also applies to Indian tribes, implying that tribal marijuana markets, such as those operated by the Oglala Sioux on Pine Ridge, would be given the same power as those in neighboring states.
However, according to Rodgers, such revisions create a large gap, essentially leaving Native American consumers and companies exposed. According to Blumenauer, the modifications only apply to acts taken by the Department of Justice, which is transferring jurisdiction to states. According to historical legal norms, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is under the Department of the Interior, and the tribal territories it polices are federal — “domestic dependent nations.”
“Native Americans — the First Americans — do not want to be treated unequally, unfavorably, or disproportionately when it comes to applying the laws and benefits of this nation,” Rodgers stated.
The urge for change is mostly nonpartisan. Reps. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio) and Don Young (R-Alaska) wrote to Biden and Vice President Harris on Thursday, urging them to change the severity with which cannabis is listed, or “scheduled,” under the Federal Controlled Substances Act, in order to distinguish it from “far more dangerous drugs such as Fentanyl, morphine, methadone, and cocaine.”
According to Joyce, the constraints imposed by marijuana’s classification as a Schedule 1 narcotic “puts the United States considerably behind many of our foreign partners and scientific rivals,” ranging from Ireland and the United Kingdom to South Korea and Israel.
“I will keep asking for the sake of researchers, medical professionals, and patients throughout the United States who continue to lose access to life-saving medications and data every day,” Joyce said on Twitter.
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