Congress Passes Landmark Cannabis Research Bill

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved landmark legislation to expand medical marijuana research, marking the first time both chambers of Congress have passed a standalone cannabis bill. The measure, titled the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act, received the approval of the House of Representatives during the summer and now heads to the desk of President Joseph Biden for his consideration.

Democratic Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, the co-sponsor of the legislation in the House along with Maryland Republican Representative Andy Hariss, noted the significance of the legislation after the Senate vote on Wednesday.

“After working on the issue of cannabis reform for decades, finally the dam is starting to break. The passage of my Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act in the House and Senate represents a historic breakthrough in addressing the federal government’s failed and misguided prohibition of cannabis,” Blumenauer, the founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said in a statement. “As we have seen in state after state, the public is tired of waiting for the federal government to catch up. More than 155 million Americans—nearly half of our nation’s population—now reside in states where adult-use of cannabis is legal.” 

In July, the bill was passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 325 to 95, an overwhelming bipartisan majority in a time of intense partisan division in Washington, D.C. Passage of the bill could signal a new era for marijuana policy in Congress, where other legislation including a bill to allow regulated cannabis businesses access to the banking system are awaiting Senate approval. In the Senate, where the legislation was passed by unanimous consent on Wednesday, the bill was sponsored by Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii.

“For far too long, Congress has stood in the way of science and progress, creating barriers for researchers attempting to study cannabis and its benefits,” Blumenauer continued. “At a time when more than 155 million Americans reside where adult-use of cannabis is legal at the state or local level and there four million registered medical marijuana users with many more likely to self-medicate, it is essential that we are able fully study the impacts of cannabis use.”

Legislation Eases Restrictions on Marijuana Research

The bill is designed to ease federal restrictions on researching cannabis, which is still classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. The legislation streamlines the application process for the approval of marijuana-related scientific studies, making it easier for researchers to understand the potential medical benefits of cannabis. 

Under the legislation, the U.S. attorney general would be given a 60-day deadline to approve an application for marijuana research or submit a request for additional information to the research applicant. The bill also includes provisions to encourage the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to support the development of medicines derived from cannabis.

“There is substantial evidence that marijuana-derived medications can and are providing major health benefits. Our bill will make it easier to study how these medications can treat various conditions, resulting in more patients being able to easily access safe medications,” Feinstein said in a statement from the senator’s office. “We know that cannabidiol-derived medications can be effective for conditions like epilepsy. This bill will help refine current medical CBD practices and develop important new applications. After years of negotiation, I’m delighted that we’re finally enacting this bill that will result in critical research that could help millions.”

President Expected To Sign Bill

While campaigning for office in 2020, Biden called for easing the federal restrictions on cannabis research. And last month, he directed the “Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.” In a statement, Schatz appeared to indicate that he expects the president to sign the cannabis research bill passed by Congress.

“The medical community agrees that we need more research to learn about marijuana’s potential health benefits, but our federal laws today are standing in the way of us finding those answers,” said Senator Schatz. “Our bill, which is now set to become law, will remove excessive barriers that make it difficult for researchers to study the effectiveness and safety of marijuana, and hopefully, give patients more treatment options.”

But not everyone is hailing the legislation as a step forward for cannabis policy reform. Shane Pennington, an attorney with the cannabis and psychedelics law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP, wrote in an email to High Times that the legislation “is a terrible terrible bill that will make research harder, not easier.” He explains the legislation unnecessarily complicates research into cannabidiol, among other issues.

“The bill imposes various DEA-registration requirements on entities seeking to handle CBD and/or ‘any [marijuana] derivative, extract, preparation, or compound.’ Under current law, however, neither CBD nor any non-marijuana cannabis ‘derivative, extract, preparation, or compound’ qualifies as a ‘controlled substance.’ Thus, as things stand today, you don’t need any special DEA registration to research them,” Pennington wrote on Substack. “By imposing registration requirements on these otherwise-non-controlled substances, this bill dramatically increases barriers to cannabis research.”

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Senator Introduces Bill To Set Up Framework for Federal Cannabis Legalization

Sen. John Hickenlooper on Thursday introduced a bill that would set up the regulatory framework in the event that the federal government legalizes marijuana. 

Hickenlooper, a Democrat from Colorado, said the Preparing Regulators Effectively for a Post-Prohibition Adult Use Regulated Environment (PREPARE) Act would help the government ready itself for such a dramatic shift in policy. 

The bill’s introduction comes ten years after Colorado became the first state in the country to legalize recreational pot when voters there approved Amendment 64, which happened when Hickenlooper served as governor of the state. 

Hickenlooper set up a task force a month following that vote in 2012, which provided recommendations for the state’s cannabis regulations. 

With the PREPARE Act, Hickenlooper said he is drawing from the same playbook. 

“Colorado successfully pioneered marijuana legalization a decade ago, thanks in part to the Amendment 64 Task Force,” Hickenlooper said in a statement on Thursday. “Federal legalization doesn’t need to start from scratch, and we should prepare for when it arrives.”

The senator’s office said that the bill “would establish a fair, honest, and publicly transparent process for the development of regulations at the federal level that incorporates many of the lessons learned by these states,” and that the legislation is “a Senate companion to Republican Congressman Dave Joyce’s bipartisan bill in the House.”

“I’m thrilled that the PREPARE Act will be introduced in the Senate, making it not only further bipartisan, but bicameral, and bringing it one step closer to becoming law,” Joyce in the press release on Thursday. “This legislation gives lawmakers on both sides of the aisle the answers they need to effectively engage on cannabis reform, safely and effectively regulate it, and remedy the harms caused by the failed war on cannabis. With those answers, Congress can develop a much-needed federal regulatory framework that not only respects the unique needs, rights, and laws of each state, but also ensures a responsible end to prohibition and a safer future for our communities. I was proud to lead the introduction of this commonsense bill in the House and thank Senator Hickenlooper for advancing it in the Senate. I look forward to continuing to work together to pave the way for more comprehensive reform.”

Despite having control of Congress and the White House, Democrats were unable to get a federal legalization bill over the finish line before next week’s midterm election.

The House of Representatives in April passed the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would have removed pot from the Controlled Substances Act.

But the Democratic-led Senate has yet to introduce its own version of a legalization bill. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said last weekend that the Senate is “very close” to passing a bill that would allow state-legal cannabis retailers to receive financial services from banks. The legislation would also include expungements for marijuana convictions, although it would not legalize pot. 

President Joe Biden last month announced pardons to everyone with federal convictions for marijuana possession, while also expressing his intention to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.

“Federal law currently classifies marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the classification meant for the most dangerous substances.  This is the same schedule as for heroin and LSD, and even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine – the drugs that are driving our overdose epidemic,” Biden said at the time.

“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana,” the president added. “It’s time that we right these wrongs.”

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Schumer: Senate ‘Very Close’ To Passing SAFE Banking Act

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday that he and his colleagues are “very close” to passing legislation that would authorize financial institutions to provide services to cannabis businesses.

Speaking during a debate in his New York senate race, Schumer signaled that the SAFE Banking Act may finally be close to earning full passage.

“I am working in a bipartisan way with Democrats and Republicans to take the SAFE Banking Act, which allows financial institutions to involve themselves in cannabis companies and lend money to them—but it also does some things for justice, such as expunging a record,” Schumer said during the debate, as quoted by Seeking Alpha.

The SAFE Banking Act was passed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives in February, marking the sixth time that the body approved the legislation. 

The legislation was first introduced all the way back in 2013. If it were to become law, it would provide vital resources to cannabis retailers in states where adult-use marijuana has been made legal. 

Those shops have become susceptible to robberies, due to the large amounts of cash on hand. 

In March, the Seattle Times reported that there had already been 70 armed robberies in Washington state in the first three months of the year. That was more than double the total in both 2021 and 2020.

“You rob the places where the cash is,” Washington state treasurer Mike Pellicciotti said on a trip earlier this year to Washington, where he lobbied lawmakers to pass the SAFE Banking Act. “These robberies are tragic. But these robberies are also preventable.”

”You can’t have a $1.4 billion a year transaction taking place in the state of Washington in cash and not have the risk of these type of robberies … It’s time,” Pellicciotti added.

Pellicciotti and other state treasurers have been among the bill’s biggest advocates.

“Colorado weed stores, along with other states with legal cannabis businesses, are headed into their busiest week of the year,” Colorado state treasurer Dave Young tweeted earlier this year ahead of the 4/20 festivities, “yet these businesses must dangerously operate in a cash-based world. Let’s pass the #SAFEBankingAct this #fourtwenty.”

Democratic leaders like Schumer have been determined to pass some form of cannabis reform since the party secured control of Congress and the White House in 2020. 

Schumer spoke confidently last year about passing a federal legalization bill––even as President Joe Biden expressed reluctance about fully lifting prohibition.

“We will move forward,” Schumer said at the time. “[Biden] said he’s studying the issue, so [I] obviously want to give him a little time to study it. I want to make my arguments to him, as many other advocates will. But at some point we’re going to move forward, period.”

In April, the House passed the the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, the federal statute that enshrines prohibition. 

Democrats in the Senate said that they would produce their own legalization bill, but the legislation’s release never came.

Now, with the midterm elections slated for next week––and with Democrats in jeopardy of losing control of both the House and the Senate––the hopes for federal legalization are dimming. 

That isn’t to say that cannabis reform advocates have come up completely empty with Democrats in charge.

Last month, Biden announced that he is issuing pardons to everyone with federal convictions for marijuana possession. Biden also signaled a desire to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.

“Federal law currently classifies marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the classification meant for the most dangerous substances.  This is the same schedule as for heroin and LSD, and even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine – the drugs that are driving our overdose epidemic,” Biden said in his announcement.

“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana,” he added. “It’s time that we right these wrongs.”

As Seeking Alpha noted, the version of the SAFE Banking Act under consideration “includes both banking reform and marijuana conviction expungements.”

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Senate Democrats Introduce Long-Awaited Cannabis Legalization Bill

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and two of his Democratic colleagues introduced a federal cannabis legalization bill last week, a little more than a year after the lawmakers released a discussion draft of the legislation. The bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, was introduced on July 21 by New York’s Schumer, Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden of Oregon and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

“As more states legalize cannabis and work towards reversing the many injustices the failed War on Drugs levied against Black, Brown and low-income people, the federal government continues to lag woefully behind,” Booker said in a statement about the legislation. “With strong restorative justice provisions for communities impacted by the drug war, support for small cannabis businesses and expungement of federal cannabis offenses, this bill reflects long overdue, common sense drug policy. I’m proud to have partnered with Senators Schumer and Wyden to introduce this critical legislation. The support that we’ve received from committee chairs and outside groups underscores the historic nature of this bill and the urgent need for Congress to pass it.”

Legislation Removes Cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act

The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and allow the states to decide on legalizing cannabis outright. The legislation would also levy a tax on cannabis sales, expunge records of past federal marijuana convictions and allow federal prisoners serving time for nonviolent cannabis convictions to petition for resentencing. The cannabis legalization bill also establishes a national regulatory framework to protect public health and safety, prioritizes restorative and economic justice to help address the negative impacts of the War on Drugs, ends discrimination in the granting of federal benefits based on cannabis use, strengthens worker protections and provides significant investments in cannabis research.

Schumer said that the cannabis prohibition and the War on Drugs have been “a war on people, and particularly people of color,” referring to the profound disparity in the enforcement of the nation’s marijuana laws. In 2020, a report from the American Civil Liberties Union found that Black people are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for a cannabis offense, despite roughly equal rates of use.

“The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act will be a catalyst for change by removing cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances, protecting public health and safety and expunging the criminal records of those with low-level cannabis offenses, providing millions with a new lease on life,” said Schumer. “A majority of Americans now support legalizing cannabis, and Congress must act by working to end decades of over-criminalization. It is time to end the federal prohibition on cannabis.”

Early Draft of Bill Released Last Year

The CAOA was first released in draft form by the Democratic Senate trio on July 14, 2021. The lawmakers also sought public input on the proposed cannabis legalization bill, receiving approximately 1,800 comments on its provisions from stakeholders across the US. After reviewing the submitted suggestions on working on the legislation in several Senate committees, Schumer, Booker and Wyden revised the discussion draft to produce the bill introduced by the senators last week. A summary of the revised bill and an 11-page summary of the revisions to the CAOA discussion draft has been posted online.

Reaction to the cannabis legalization bill from representatives of the legal marijuana industry was upbeat. Troy Datcher, CEO of multistate cannabis operator The Parent Company, said that the introduction of the legislation “marks the beginning of a new direction after nearly a century of the failed policy of cannabis prohibition in the United States.”

“In the coming weeks, we look forward to a robust debate on The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act and will be watching closely to see whether the bill appears likely to obtain the support necessary for passage in the Senate,” Datcher wrote in an email to Cannabis Now. “While engaged in this important and necessary debate about the best policy framework for cannabis legalization, we urge the Senate to not lose sight of those reforms that have broad bipartisan support, such as the SAFE Banking Act, expungement of cannabis convictions and efforts to lower the barriers to entry for minority cannabis operators.”

Schumer noted that introducing the bill is only the “beginning of the legislative process” and that the senators would now work to gain support from both Democratic and GOP lawmakers. The cannabis legalization bill faces stiff opposition from several Republican senators and some moderate Democrats, making gaining approval in the body unsure at best. Nevertheless, the CAOA marks continued progress on cannabis policy reform at the federal level.

“I’m proud to be the first [US Senate] Majority Leader ever to say that it’s time to end the federal prohibition on cannabis, and this bill provides the best framework for updating our cannabis laws and reversing decades of harm inflicted by the war on drugs,” Schumer said on the Senate floor on Thursday.

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Senate Committee Holds Hearing on Cannabis Decriminalization Bill

A Senate panel met on Tuesday to consider a bill that would decriminalize cannabis at the federal level, less than a week after the legislation was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and two Democratic colleagues. The bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, was introduced on July 21 by Schumer, the senior senator from New York, Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden of Oregon and New Jersey’s Senator Cory Booker.

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, which is chaired by Booker, discussed the legislation and heard testimony from witnesses at a hearing held at the nation’s Capitol on Tuesday. Under the nearly 300 pages of legislation, marijuana would be removed from regulation under the federal Controlled Substances Act, where the drug is listed under the most restrictive Schedule I, and states would be allowed to create their own cannabis policies. The measure would also establish a national tax on cannabis products, expunge records of past federal cannabis convictions, and allow nonviolent cannabis prisoners to request resentencing.

Booker, the chair of the subcommittee and the only Black senator on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that national cannabis prohibition has “miserably failed” and has led to a “festering injustice” of enforcement policy that disproportionately targets Black and Brown communities. According to a 2020 report from the American Civil Liberties Union, Black people in America are almost four times more likely to be arrested for a cannabis-related offense than whites, despite relatively equal rates of pot use.

“Cannabis laws are unevenly enforced and devastate the lives of those most vulnerable,” Booker said during the Tuesday hearing.

Witnesses Testify To Support Cannabis Decriminalization Bill

Weldon Angelos, a former federal cannabis prisoner and criminal justice reform advocate, appeared before the subcommittee to testify in favor of the legislation. Sentenced to 55 years in federal prison for a first-time cannabis conviction and firearms possession charge, Angelos spent 13 years behind bars before being released in 2016. He told the senators at the hearing that expungement is a vital element of cannabis policy reform.

“Each arrest, prosecution, conviction and sentence makes the world a little bit smaller for those bearing the modern scarlet letter,” Angelos said, referring to what life is like for those with a conviction for a drug offense.

Representatives of the law enforcement community also testified in favor of the legislation to reform the nation’s marijuana laws. Edward Jackson, chief of the Annapolis Police Department, told the subcommittee that “there is nothing inherently violent” about cannabis.

Jackson said that decriminalization would permit police officers to concentrate on more serious crimes and help restore the community’s trust in law enforcement.

“I have spent far too much time arresting people for selling and possessing cannabis,” Jackson testified.

Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Missouri, lodged his opposition to the cannabis legalization bill and expungement, arguing that the legislation “would wipe clean the criminal records of illegal alien traffickers.”

“When these criminals trafficked marijuana, they broke the law,” Cotton told his colleagues on the subcommittee. “Whether some find that law unfashionable or even unfair, what they did was illegal.”

Cannabis Industry Reacts to Senate Hearing

Mason Tvert, partner at cannabis policy consulting firm VS Strategies, told High Times after Tuesday’s hearing that it “is refreshing to finally see a significant discussion of cannabis policy in Congress’ upper chamber.”

“History has shown that the more people talk about and hear about cannabis, the more quickly support grows for ending its prohibition,” Tvert wrote in an email. “Hopefully there will be more to follow, and members will have an opportunity to continue hearing about the many important aspects of this major policy issue, from expungement and equity to the economics and public safety benefits of legalization.”

Ryan G. Smith, co-founder and CEO of online cannabis wholesale platform LeafLink, urged lawmakers to approve comprehensive cannabis policy reform at the national level.

“For far too long, communities of color have been disproportionately harmed by unjust cannabis laws,” Smith wrote in an email to High Times. “Today’s hearing was a step forward, but now it’s time for Congress to take real action to end prohibition and support communities that have been unfairly targeted and left behind.”

But George Mancheril, co-founder and CEO of cannabis industry lender Bespoke Financial, is not optimistic that meaningful cannabis policy reform measures will be approved in the near future, noting that less controversial bills such as the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would allow banks to offer financial services to legal cannabis companies, have not fared well in the upper chamber of Congress.

“This hearing was an important step towards federal cannabis legalization but illustrated the long road still ahead. Passing comprehensive legislation is significantly harder than limited scope proposals such as the SAFE Banking Act which stalled in the Senate numerous times,” Mancheril said in an email. “The current political and economic environment will likely continue to keep all such cannabis focused bills on the fringe of political discussion and unlikely to pass any time soon but we hope that future hearings will drive the discussion towards the mechanics and timeline for federal regulation to provide greater clarity and transparency to the industry and to all stakeholders.”

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Bipartisan Group of Senators Introduces Resolution Calling for Brittney Griner’s Release

Republicans and Democrats in the United States Senate have come together in support of a resolution calling for the release of Brittney Griner, the basketball star who has been held in a Russian prison since February over drug charges.

More than 30 senators joined as cosponsors of the resolution, which “calls on the Government of the Russian Federation to immediately release [Griner]”; “urges the United States, in all interactions with the Government of the Russian Federation, to raise the case of Brittney Griner and to press for her release”; “urges the Government of the Russian Federation to provide consular access to Brittney Griner while she remains in detention”; “urges the Government of the Russian Federation to respect the human rights of Brittney Griner”; and “expresses support to the family of Brittney Griner and a commitment to bringing her home.”

The resolution additionally expresses support for Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen who was arrested in Russia in 2018 on espionage charges, along with “all prisoners unjustly imprisoned in the Russian Federation.”

It was written by Democratic Sens. Mark Kelly and Kristen Sinema, both of Arizona, where Griner’s WNBA team the Phoenix Mercury plays, as well as Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the home of Griner’s alma mater, Baylor University.

“I’ve worked with the State Department to make sure that Brittney Griner’s safe return is a top priority, and this bipartisan resolution shows the Senate’s support for her as well. Brittney Griner is an inspiration to Arizonans and Americans across the country. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her and seeing her talent on the court up close. The Russian government unjustly detained Brittney and we will keep working with the administration to ensure her safe and swift return,” Kelly said in a statement on Thursday.

“Arizonans have love and admiration for Brittney Griner both on and off the court,” Sinema said. “The Department of State has determined that Brittney was wrongfully detained – it’s past time for her to come home.”

Griner was arrested on February 17 at an airport in Moscow while traveling back to Russia to complete her season for UMMC Ekaterinburg, which she plays for during the WNBA’s offseason.

She was accused of carrying cannabis oil in her luggage, and faces up to 10 years in prison on drug charges.

After her trial commenced earlier this month, Griner pleaded guilty to the charges, but said she did not intend to break the law.

Griner’s detention, coming not long before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is widely viewed as politically motivated. The U.S. Department of State in May reclassified Griner as “wrongfully detained.”

Russia has given suggestions as of late that it could be angling for a prisoner swap involving Griner and Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year federal prison sentence in the U.S.

President Joe Biden, meanwhile, is facing mounting pressure to bring Griner home.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, earlier this month, after Brittney Griner sent a letter to the president.

“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner wrote in the letter.

“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees,” Griner continued. “Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”

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Senate Dems Ready To Introduce Cannabis Bill, Hearing Scheduled Next Week

With Congress set to break for its traditional August recess––and with this year’s midterm elections drawing nearer––Democrats in the Senate finally appear ready to introduce a bill that would end the federal prohibition on pot.

The Senate Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism has scheduled a hearing for next week that is titled, “Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms.”

The chair of the subcommittee, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), has taken a leading role in crafting the Senate’s cannabis reform legislation.

The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

Bloomberg had reported previously that Senate Democrats intended to introduce the bill this week.

Whenever the legislation drops, it will represent long-awaited action from a Democratic caucus that has moved methodically on cannabis reform––despite repeated pledges from party leaders that it will get done.

At the beginning of April, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed their own pot legalization package: the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would deschedule cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.

Senate Democrats said they would move forward with their own cannabis reform bill that has been overseen by Booker, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. 

After previously saying that the Senate would release its own version by the end of April, Schumer said that the bill would likely be introduced closer to the Congressional recess in August.

And after recent suggestions that Senate Democrats might be looking to offer up a more modest reform package, it now appears that they will seek to match the House and end the federal prohibition as well.

Politico reported last month that Schumer “doesn’t have the votes to pass a sweeping marijuana decriminalization bill — despite repeatedly touting his support for ending federal prohibition,” and that “realization is leading Senate Democrats to look for a compromise on weed.”

But Bloomberg reported last week that Democrats will indeed introduce the bill that Booker, Wyden and Schumer have been working on: the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which will also remove pot from the Controlled Substances Act, although it would also give states discretion to establish their own cannabis laws.

Bloomberg noted that “the legislation faces long odds in the evenly divided chamber,” with 60 votes necessary for passage.

The bill faces significant opposition from Republicans in the chamber, and even some Democratic members.

President Joe Biden has long said that he is in favor of decriminalization of cannabis, but not outright legalization––though he has struggled to explain the distinction.

Earlier this week, Biden reiterated his belief that no one “should be in prison for the use of marijuana,” and said that he is working with Congress on a bill to fulfill his promise to release inmates serving time for pot-related offenses.

It is unclear whether he supports either the House’s MORE Act or the Senate’s Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.

Despite the slow-motion progress of the bill in the Senate, Schumer has been unequivocal in his support for sweeping cannabis reform.

“We will move forward,” Schumer told Politico last year. “[Biden] said he’s studying the issue, so [I] obviously want to give him a little time to study it. I want to make my arguments to him, as many other advocates will. But at some point we’re going to move forward, period.”

“In 2018, I was the first member of the Democratic leadership to come out in support of ending the federal prohibition. I’m sure you ask, ‘Well what changed?’ Well, my thinking evolved. When a few of the early states—Oregon and Colorado—wanted to legalize, all the opponents talked about the parade of horribles: Crime would go up. Drug use would go up. Everything bad would happen,” he added. “The legalization of states worked out remarkably well. They were a great success. The parade of horribles never came about, and people got more freedom. And people in those states seem very happy.”

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Episode 412 – Seventh Time’s the Charm

Guests Taylor West, Brian Adams, and Thomas Haren speak with host Ben Larson about the passage of the cannabis-provision-laden National Defense Authorization Act by the House and what the chances those provisions will survive in the Senate, as well as the general state of the economy. Produced by Shea Gunther.

SAFE Banking Act Dropped From China Competition Bill

Federal legislation that would permit financial institutions to provide banking services to legal cannabis businesses has been dropped from a bill designed to foster competition with China, marking the sixth time the cannabis banking provisions have failed to gain the approval of the U.S. Senate after being passed by the House of Representatives.

Known as the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, the legislation would have permitted banks and other financial institutions to serve companies in the legal cannabis industry. Under current regulations, providing traditional banking services such as loans and payroll, checking and deposit accounts is tightly regulated by the federal government, resulting in few financial institutions agreeing to work with marijuana businesses. Critics note that the current policy forces cannabis companies to operate primarily in cash, leaving the businesses vulnerable to crime.

The SAFE Banking Act was first introduced in Congress by Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado in 2013. Since then, the House of Representatives has passed the bill six times as either a standalone bill or attached to other legislation. But the measure has failed to gain the approval of the Senate.

Most recently, the House approved provisions of the SAFE Banking Act in February as part of the America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology, and Economic Strength Act of 2022 (America COMPETES Act), a bill to support U.S. manufacturing and improve competitiveness with China. But on Thursday, Punchbowl News reported that the cannabis banking provisions have been dropped from the latest version of the COMPETES Act, which is currently in conference committee with House and Senate lawmakers. The report noted that the SAFE Act language had been dropped at the insistence of Republican negotiators.

“In the wake of the Senate’s inaction, people continue to be killed, businesses continue to be robbed, and employees and business owners in the cannabis industry continue to be excluded from the financial system,” Perlmutter, the lead sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, said in a statement quoted by The Hill.

Activists and Industry React

After news that the legislation had not been included in the latest version of the COMPETES Act Morgan Fox, the political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said that it “is mind-boggling that this is now the sixth time that SAFE Banking has been approved by the House but stalled by the Senate.”

“This narrowly tailored, incremental, and necessary legislation has broad bipartisan support in both chambers, and it is incredibly disappointing that politics continue to get in the way of saving lives and helping struggling small businesses disrupt and ultimately replace the underground cannabis market,” Fox said in a statement from the cannabis policy reform advocacy group. “If there is a legislative version of the Twilight Zone, the SAFE Banking Act seems to be stuck in it at this point.”

Some supporters of the legislation including Michael Sassano, CEO and founder of cannabis products manufacturer Somaí Pharmaceuticals, believe that Congress is missing an opportunity to make people who work in the industry safer.

“Congress continually drops the easy play by going for an all-or-nothing strategy,” Sassano writes in an email to High Times. “Avoiding the SAFE banking act only shows that they don’t care about the cannabis industry and the safety of our employees, but rather their pet projects that get embedded in every failed law they try and pass.”

Despite Thursday’s setback, representatives of the regulated weed industry have not given up on the cannabis banking bill, with hopes that lawmakers will add the legislation to an upcoming spending package.

“The support and political will is there to get the SAFE Banking Act across the finish line. We are encouraged by conversations about pairing the bill with other helpful cannabis and criminal justice reforms,” Steven Hawkins, president of the U.S. Cannabis Council, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with our members and allies to help get the job done.”

But Fox noted that the opportunity to pass meaningful federal cannabis reform this year is fading as the nation and the Congress head into the 2022 midterm election season.

“There are still some pathways available to get SAFE Banking approved in the current congressional session, but time is running out,” Fox added. “The Senate should not waste this rare chance for bicameral and bipartisan cooperation that would improve safety and opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people and foster economic development in a majority of states.”

Perlmutter, who in January announced he will not seek reelection this year, vowed to continue working to get the cannabis banking measure passed before he leaves Congress.

“I will continue to push for #SAFEBanking to be included in COMPETES, other legislative vehicles, or for the Senate to finally take up the standalone version of the bill which has been sitting in the Senate for three and a half years,” Perlmutter tweeted on Thursday.

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Louisiana Senate Approves Bill Allowing Public Employees to Use Medical Pot

The Louisiana state Senate voted 26-8 on Wednesday to approve a bill that would protect public employees who use medical cannabis from job discrimination. The measure, House Bill 988, was approved by the Louisiana House of Representatives last week and now heads to the desk of Governor John Bel Edwards for his consideration.

Under the bill, public employees using medical cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation and in accordance with state law are protected from being fired for using medical pot. The bill also protects medical cannabis patients who are applying for state positions from being denied employment or other job discrimination based on their use of cannabis.

“This would basically be a first step to having laws on the books to protect people who have medical marijuana cards,” state Representative Mandy Landry, the sponsor of the bill, said last month after introducing the bill.

The bill does not apply to private employers or local government agencies, including police and fire departments. Landry told reporters that the legislation was limited to state employees to address likely opposition from politically powerful law enforcement and business lobbyists in the state Capitol.

Medical Cannabis an Alternative to Opioids in Louisiana

The Louisiana House of Representatives approved the bill by a vote of 60-32 on May 24. While the bill was up for debate in the House, Landry told her colleagues that the legislation would help prevent state workers from becoming addicted to opioids, an argument that was echoed in the upper body of the state legislature by Senator Stewart Cathey.

“There are a lot of people who don’t want to take opioids for their long-term PTSD and pain management because of the high possibility of addiction to opioids,” Landry said when the bill came up in a House committee last month. “This has proved to be a better option than them.”

The bill faced opposition from some lawmakers in the House, who argued that the legislature should not be drafting policy for state workers. Representative Larry Frieman said that such tasks should be carried out by the state Department of Administration. Jacques Berry, the communications director for the agency, noted that the Department of Administration has policies that protect its employees that use medical cannabis. But he added that the department does not have the authority to create employment policy for all state agencies.

State Representative Ed Larvadain supported the bill, suggesting that more work on cannabis policy reform is yet to come.

“We’re going to have to change how we deal with medical marijuana,” Larvadain said. “But this is a first step.”

Larvadain offered to work with Landry in the future to find a path that makes law enforcement officers and firefighters also eligible to use medical cannabis.

“A lot of those men and women have chronic pains because over the years they’ve had to climb through windows and police officers have been abused,” Larvadain said.

Medical cannabis advocates including Kevin Caldwell of the Marijuana Policy Project also supported the bill.

“The fact is we have an opioid problem that gets discussed in this building all the time,” Caldwell said. “We are seeing that for a lot of patients, medical cannabis is an exit strategy.”

Tony Landry of the Veterans Action Council noted that police officers and firefighters are not able to take CBD because of the risk that trace amounts of THC “can accumulate in your body over time and cause a positive test. I’m in favor of this bill, and I just think we need to leave no employee behind.”

Louisiana legalized medical cannabis for patients with debilitating medical conditions in 2015, and sales of medicinal weed began in the state in 2019. The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy reports that the state has more than 43,000 registered medical cannabis patients. Last year, the governor signed legislation to decriminalize possession of up to 14 grams of pot, making such offenses only punishable by a fine of up to $100.

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