Top US Senate lawmakers convened a roundtable discussion with cannabis stakeholders about a new bill to legalize marijuana at the federal level.
The meeting, held by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism Chair Cory Booker and Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, closely follows a joint statement issued by the trio of senators calling for end to federal cannabis prohibition, now that the Democrats are in control of Congress, with legislation that prioritizes advancing racial justice. Their statement revealed draft federal cannabis reform legislation would be released early this year, with the roundtable discussion representing the first formal step in this process.
Attendees at the virtual meeting included representatives from marijuana reform advocacy groups such as NORML and Drug Policy Alliance, as well as cannabis business groups such as the National Cannabis Industry Association and Minority Cannabis Business Association. Also present were representatives from the ACLU, the Veterans Cannabis Coalition, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
The hour-long discussion touched on issues such as the marijuana industry’s regulatory structure, tax rates and social equity provisions. The participants found consensus on the need for the draft bill to deschedule marijuana and for regulations based on justice and equity. Sen. Cory Booker will be the lead sponsor of the new bill, and it’ll likely have its first hearing in Sen. Wyden’s committee.
More specific details about the shape of the new bill are yet to be announced but it’s expected to comprise elements of previously submitted marijuana reform proposals, with the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act to federally deschedule cannabis tipped to be a cornerstone of the draft legislation. Attendees of the meeting mentioned aspects of the MORE Act they felt could be improved upon, such as removing a provision that excludes individuals with prior marijuana convictions from applying for a federal license to sell cannabis.
Another commitment agreed upon at the meeting is to ensure there’s no repeat of the conflict last year among cannabis reform advocates concerning the House’s passage of a bill to guarantee banks can provide financial services to cannabis businesses without fear of federal reprisals. Some Democrats and civil rights groups expressed concerns that the bill failed to address the harms of prohibition so a more comprehensive bill was eventually drafted and approved.
Since assuming office in the White House, President Joe Biden has given no indication he’s changed his mind on cannabis legalization. He was elected on promises to enact more modest reforms, such as rescheduling and expungements. Still, marijuana reform advocates remain hopeful the president would not stand in the way of congressional leaders looking to enact comprehensive federal reform of the US’s cannabis laws.
Meanwhile, several new congressional cannabis bills have already been filed so far in 2021. One would reschedule cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act, while another would prohibit the US Department of Veterans Affairs from restricting veterans’ access to benefits on the basis of state-legal medical cannabis use.