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The Senate Bill That Would Legalize and Tax Cannabis Like Tobacco

September 10, 2020 in General News

Federal legalization of cannabis may just be one step closer to becoming a reality. With the MORE Act scheduled for a floor House vote the week of September 21, the Senate has drafted its own version, the Substance Regulation and Safety Act, sponsored by Minnesota Senator Tina Smith. In this article, I will explain the specifics of the legislation and how it is different from the House version.

On August 6, 2020 Senator Smith gave a speech on the Senate floor, promoting her bill which was filed in late July. She stressed that the goal of her cannabis reform legislation is to make sure that cannabis is regulated in a way that protects the health and the safety of young people, consumers and of drivers. She supports the end of cannabis prohibition as the most effective way of helping law enforcement officers. Furthermore, it would channel more resources on serious crimes. She emphasized that it is time to stop the disproportionate number of arrests and the incarceration of people of color for low-level cannabis offenses.

The Substance Regulation and Safety Act would do the following:

  • Remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA)

Direct the following federal agencies to create systems for the regulation of cannabis for the entire country:

  • Require the US Department of Health (HHS) to do the following:
    1. Create a regulatory framework that would treat cannabis the same as tobacco
    2. Set up a national research institute that evaluates the risks and benefits of cannabis
    3. Regulate the labeling and advertising of cannabis products so that it would be comparable to that of tobacco products
    4. Develop a national plan to prevent the misuse of cannabis, with an emphasis on restricting vaping products, for youths under 21 years of age
    5. Within the first 100 days of the passage of the bill, address the racial justice component by requiring that civil rights advocates are consulted to make sure that the cannabis abuse prevention strategies and policies do not have a racially disproportionate effect on minority communities
  • Require the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to set up quality control standards
  • Require the Department of Transportation to create a system for law enforcement officers to accurately detect those who are driving while impaired by THC. The racial justice component must be taken into account by ensuring that the impaired driving prevention policy does not contribute to the current racially disproportionate impact of the enforcement of traffic safety regulations.
  • Require U.S. Customs and Border Protection to work with other agencies to develop policies on allowing cannabis imports and exports

The impact of removing cannabis from the CSA will be retroactive and will apply to the following for adults:

  • Any offense committed
  • Any case pending
  • Any conviction entered

For juveniles:

  • Any offense committed
  • Any case pending
  • Any judgment of juvenile delinquency which was entered before, on or after the date of the passage of this legislation

The legislation establishes that consumers of cannabis products must be at least 21 years of age.

All of the agencies tasked with establishing these rules and regulations would be required to finalize them within one year of the passage of the legislation.

This legislation would offer relief to the cannabis industry which has been stifled for decades due to federal prohibition. Cannabis businesses would no longer be fearful of federal interference, they would finally be able to use banks and financial institutions, gets loans, and operate like any other federally legal business.

Senator Smith filed her bill the day after the House approved a spending bill amendment that would protect all state, territory and tribal cannabis programs from federal intervention. It will prevent the Department of Justice from using any federal funds to stop the execution of cannabis legalization laws. The amendment was first approved by voice vote and later passed in a 254-163 vote on the floor.

It is important to note that an amendment to adopt federal cannabis legalization was rejected as part of its platform by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in favor of more moderate reforms. Cannabis advocates suspect that Senator Smith’s bill does not propose federal legalization in order to be in step with the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, who opposes it.

The focus of this bill is almost entirely on regulating cannabis products like tobacco with some consideration for a racial justice component, especially in regards to traffic safety regulations. However, there is no provision to reinvest in the low-income and minority communities hardest hit by the War on Drugs. There is speculation that keeping the bill to such a narrow focus may help to make it more acceptable to some Republican members who are needed for its passage. Republicans have a 53-47 majority in the Senate.

The House Version: Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act
1. Deschedules cannabis
2. Expunges the records of those with previous cannabis convictions
3. Places a federal sales tax of 5% to be reinvested in communities most impacted by prohibition for which there is bipartisan support.
4. Facilitates the resentencing of those imprisoned for cannabis offenses
5. Protects immigrants with cannabis convictions from being denied citizenship
6. Stops federal agencies from denying those entitled to public benefits or security clearances due to cannabis usage

Call your Senators and urge them to support this piece of legislation!, New Legalization Bill To Regulate Weed Like Tobacco Was Just Introduced to US Senate, Chris Moore, Aug. 3, 2020, Senate Bill Seeks To Legalize and Tax Cannabis Like Tobacco, Aug. 7, 2020, Senator Files New Bill To Federally Legalize Marijuana and Regulate It Like Tobacco, Kyle Jaeger, July 31, 2020, Senator Touts New Marijuana Legalization Bill in Floor Speech on Racial Justice, Kyle Jaeger, Aug 9, 2020, House Debates Measure To Protect State Marijuana Laws from Federal Interference, Kyle Jaeger, July 30, 2020

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