Kristina Etter   |   July 15, 2021

Fight for US Cannabis Legalization Intensifies in Senate

One Small Step, Or One Giant Leap? Is the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act a milestone moment for cannabis legalization, or will it fall on deaf ears across the aisle?
Kristina Etter spent 20 years in corporate IT with a niche in mobile technology and IoT in agriculture. Today, she combines her love of technology with a passion for cannabis as the Editorial Director for Cannabis Tech.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), along with Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), joined forces to introduce the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act to the Senate. With 163 pages, the bill is touted as one of the most inclusive and comprehensive drafts ever introduced to end marijuana prohibition.

While the bill leaves the ultimate decision for cannabis legalization up to the individual states, it promises to deschedule marijuana on a federal level. Additionally, the bill provides provisions for expungement of prior convictions, resentencing petitions, and ending the consequences of a marijuana conviction, such as immigration restrictions.

Naturally, the bill is the first step toward legitimizing the cannabis industry and opening the door to a less restrictive business environment.

Social Justice & Reform Provides Renewed Energy for Cannabis Legalization

Without question, the War on Drugs has disproportionately impacted many people over the years, particularly for people of color. As it has been introduced, the new bill aims to promote reform and social justice for disenfranchised demographics.

By mandating the immediate expungement of all arrests and convictions for non-violent cannabis charges, the bill vows to make a swift impact on society.

Narmin Jarrous, Chief Development Officer of Exclusive Brands in Michigan, stated, "It's absurd that our state and federal governments are benefitting from cannabis tax dollars while people - mostly brown people and people of color - are suffering behind bars. This proposed legislation would have a tremendous impact on promoting social equity in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition, and help so many people who have been hurt by our justice system."

Additionally, the bill would also provide three federal programs for those impacted by the War on Drugs and encourage the proliferation of BPOC-owned cannabis businesses. These grants include:

  • A fund for non-profits providing services to those disadvantaged individuals impacted by the War on Drugs
  • A fund for states to offer small business loans for socially and economically disadvantaged individuals
  • Equitable Licensing Grants reduces the barriers to entry for cannabis licensing programs for those adversely impacted by prohibition.

Cannabis Leaders Encouraged by the Announcement

Naturally, the announcement is creating a buzz in the industry. Many industry leaders are encouraged by the news and remain optimistic that this is the much-anticipated positive momentum the industry needs.

Kyle Sherman, the founder of Flowhub, a SaaS POS solution catering to cannabis, said in a statement, “Federal legalization is something that we’ve been fighting towards for decades. This bill is a culmination of hard work from everyone in the cannabis industry. We’re witnessing history.” He continued, “The War on Drugs has cost close to $1 trillion and the freedom of countless individuals since it began. We’ve seen the benefits that cannabis brings and understand that it shouldn’t be illegal. Now it’s time to reflect this in our laws.”

Jonathan Sandelman, CEO of Ayr Wellness, also celebrated the news stating, “We applaud the unveiling of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act as an important next step to advance the national dialogue around the mainstreaming of cannabis. We strongly support the bill’s initiatives to promote social justice reform, including record expungement and backing for small businesses owned by those who have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. We look forward to the day when the cannabis sector has the same access to mainstream resources as other industries.”

Other Benefits of the Bill

In addition to righting the wrongs of a failed drug war, the bill also includes several other provisions, such as:

  • Consumer Rights – marijuana possession will no longer be the reason for federal benefits or security clearance denials.
  • Veteran Access – The VA would be allowed to make medical cannabis recommendations for veterans.
  • Tax Credits for small businesses
  • Removing DEA authority and shifting to the FDA
  • Allowing intrastate commerce and a pathway for health claims

Uncle Sam Wants Your Feedback

As a draft, the senators are seeking comment on the proposed legislation. As reported by Marijuana Moment, here are a few areas in particular that they’d like feedback from stakeholders and other interested parties:

  • Measuring the potency of cannabis products
  • The overlap of definitions for hemp and marijuana
  • Regulations for synthetic THC (such as Delta-8 and Delta-10)
  • Regulatory responsibilities for 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 premarket review before being marketed
  • And how to deal with international treaty obligations concerning marijuana

Comments on these or any other topics must be sent to [email protected] by September 1st, 2021.

But Will Biden Budge?

Only moments after the announcement of the new bill, Biden’s spokesperson was quick to announce that the President has no interest in ending marijuana prohibition. Although bipartisan support could sway his opinion, few Republican Senators are willing to work with their colleagues across the aisle on the issue. Many maintain antiquated and false narratives like, “marijuana needs more research,” a statement provided to Reuters by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa.

As such, Keith Cich, President and Co-Founder of Sunderstorm, maintains a more reserved position after the bill was announced. “Introducing the legislation will be a litmus test to see whether the Senate is ready for full legalization. The Senate is the domino that is difficult to push over the edge,” he stated.

Democrats need at least 10 Republican Senators to support the bill. But, an analysis of the 117th Congress Outlook for Cannabis published by Akerman LLP on JDSupra suggests cannabis reform has an uphill battle moving into 2022. Despite growing support for cannabis reform across the United States and within their own base, most GOP senators refuse to budge on the topic.

Montana and South Dakota residents voted for cannabis legalization within their states, yet their Republican leadership remains skeptical. Senators Steve Daines (R-MT) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) have both publicly stated they do not support legalization in spite of their constituents. No wonder cannabis did better on the ballot than they did.

According to Politico, only two Republican senators have expressed any interest in cannabis reform; the rest have no inclinations toward progress. And, without bipartisan support, the bill may have a very bleak future.

However, Rob Woodbyrne, CEO of Regrow, a cannabis supply chain management company based out of San Diego, maintains a realistic but hopeful outlook. He said in a statement, “The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act's draft legislation is designed to jumpstart bipartisan negotiations that have been building momentum in Congress since the first states chose to regulate cannabis for adults. While it’s still a long and uphill climb going forward, this is a great step in moving forward towards ultimately achieving true federal cannabis legalization and ending prohibition.“

 

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