Federal Cannabis Legislation in 2022

The latest political polling is not looking great for Democrats in the coming mid-term elections. If congressional Democrats wish to pass legislation, this spring is the time to do it. And, they are gearing up to enact initiatives focused on decriminalizing marijuana this spring to do just that.

Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) wrote a memo to the Congressional Cannabis Caucus Dec 16 outlining proposed proposals seeking to establish 21st-century banking services for the nearly $18 billion industry and to purge the criminal records for marijuana offenders.

“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,” said the representatives in their memo.

Nearly 70 percent of Americans, a number which includes roughly half of Republican voters, support legalizing marijuana (according to a 2020 Gallup Poll). Four states this year legalized recreational cannabis, New Mexico, New Jersey, Virginia, and Connecticut, and several policy proposals in congress were targeted at ending cannabis prohibition.

Legislative Road Map for the Cannabis Industry

The memo creates a road map for the dozens of bills that change every aspect of the cannabis industry and the federal government’s supporting role. Many policy proposals are in fact, bipartisan with some measures receiving GOP support.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, sponsored by Lee and Blumenauer, is intended to finally remove cannabis from the Controlled Substance Act, purging records for marijuana convictions.

Other bills for discussion this spring include:

  • Development of a legal cannabis market in Washington, D.C.
  • Ensure the legality of state cannabis programs, including the possibility for extending to federal workers
  • Provide for cannabis research trials for PTSD, prohibiting retribution by the Veterans’ Administration against physicians who recommend the substance
  • The bipartisan Medical Marijuana Research Act, intended to remove restrictions to federal researchers studying marijuana. The intention is to ensure researchers have access to the same high-grade product as is used by consumers.
  • The SAFE Banking Act (sponsored by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.)), would enable access to an array of financial services for the cannabis industry including commercial loans, checking accounts, and credit card processing.

Safe Banking for the Cannabis Industry

“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 such as ‘aiding and abetting a federal crime and money laundering,” states an explanation of the bill.

Without this change in the law, the state-legal cannabis industry must conduct business totaling billions of dollars almost entirely in cash. This leads to the occasional high-profile robbery and murders.

Creating an Equitable Industry

The combination of bills demonstrates what a marijuana liberalization policy could look like with a modern, diverse, regulated industry of small producers. A direct contradiction to competing adult recreation categories dominated by a few large giants as found in alcohol and tobacco.

“For states making progress on cannabis reform, we must ensure access to the growing cannabis industry is equitable. In addition to investing in the communities most impacted by the war on drugs, it’s crucial that states incentivize equal opportunity to participate in the cannabis industry, especially for people of color.

Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told former New York Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright in a panel discussion on news outlet Black Enterprise. “We don’t want the big boys to come in,”.

Tom Rodgers of Carlyle Consulting, a lobbyist for cannabis legalization says: “We’re going to have a huge debate next year on cannabis, and representatives want to have that debate before the midterms. Virtually every committee in the Senate will receive a piece of this bill,” including panels focused on banking and criminal justice reform.

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