Now that the House of Representatives is controlled by the Democrats, there is a big push to file federal legislation to reform cannabis laws. Many of the bills have bipartisan sponsorship which signals the possibility of actually passing legislation. From federal legislation to banking access to granting veterans a much needed treatment option to opioids, these developments will impact every cannabis consumer in this country.
With a wink and a nod to the most celebrated date of the year in the cannabis world, 4/20, comes the ‘420 Bills.’
‘420’ Bills Are Introduced into the Senate and the House
Two cannabis legalization bills were introduced in Congress last week; a three-part bill in the Senate and one in the House. Both bills call for the descheduling of cannabis from the Controlled Substance Act (CSA). Cannabis would be treated like alcohol; taxed and regulated, accordingly.
S.420 – S.421 – S.422
The Senate version is sponsored by long time cannabis advocate, Senator Ron Wyden (D-WA)
Here are the main points:
- Removes cannabis from Schedule I of the CSA by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) within 60 days of its passage
- Cannabis sellers must add an excise tax to their product
- Special permits are required in order to sell cannabis
- Growers and sellers must adhere to the labeling and advertisement guidelines similar to those for alcohol
- Sellers in legal states are allowed to take tax deductions like any other legitimate business
- Cannabis and cannabis-related businesses will be granted access to banks and financial institutions
- Restrictions on cannabis advertising will be removed which will open up markets
H.R. 420 “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act”
The House of Representatives version is sponsored by long time cannabis activist, Rep. Earl Blumenaur (D-OR), Chairman of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus (CCC). The CCC is a bipartisan group of lawmakers whose goal is to coordinate federal medical and recreational cannabis laws with the existing state laws.
Here are the main points:
- Removes cannabis from the CSA
- Cannabis regulations supervision will transfer from the DEA to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
- The FDA and the newly named agency within the Department of the Treasury, the Alcohol, Tobacco and Marijuana Tax and Trade Bureau, will handle oversight
- Cannabis will be regulated like alcohol
- Federal permits will be issued for growing, selling, packaging and importing cannabis
- It is still illegal to ship or bring cannabis into states that have not legalized it
House Financial Services Committee Likely To Grant Banking Access To The Cannabis Industry
The House of Representatives has scheduled a hearing on their bill that removes the restrictions on bank and financial institutions for cannabis-based businesses. On February 13, 2019 a subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee will listen to a presentation on the “Challenges and Solutions: Access to Banking Services for Cannabis-Related Businesses.” Spearheaded by Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA) and Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), this bill was introduced 6 years ago and was never granted a hearing. According to the 2 lawmakers, forcing cannabis-related businesses to deal in a “cash-only” business is a threat to public safety. Financial institutions have been loathe to work with the cannabis industry for fear of reprisals for violating drug and money laundering laws.
The Obama Administration issued a memo in 2014 with the intention of allowing cannabis-related businesses access to banks and financial institutions. However, the then Republican-controlled House of Representatives refused to even grant a hearing on the proposal.
New Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) has prioritized resolving this problem as one of her first acts as head of the Committee. She is eager to pass a law that would give legitimate cannabis businesses the security of knowing that their money is handled in a safe and effective way, tracked by law enforcement. A Colorado dispensary security guard was killed during a robbery in 2016. The expectation is that the full House Financial Services Committee has already started crafting the legislation and will vote on it in the coming months.
Legislation Introduced To Allow Veterans Access To Medical Cannabis at VA
Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced legislation which would allow doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to discuss and potentially recommend medical cannabis to veterans in states with legal programs.
Here are the main points of the bill:
- Grants a temporary 5 year protection period against federal prosecution for veterans who use medical cannabis and for their doctors in states where cannabis usage is legal
- Oversees the VA in conducting research studies on how medical cannabis affects veterans with chronic pain
- Directs the VA to examine the relationship between medical cannabis usage and the potential reduction of opioid abuse in veterans
33 states already have medical cannabis programs. Sen. Kaine wants to ensure that our veterans receive the same opportunity as civilians to receive medical cannabis as a treatment option. To deny veterans access to medical cannabis through the VA is tantamount to punishing them for serving their country. By using veterans in cannabis research studies, important data can be gathered on its potential effectiveness in the reduction of pain and opioid usage.
A comparable bill in the House, Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, was filed by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). A similar bill was passed last year in the House that granted federal funds for research but denied veterans access. Let’s hope 2019 will be the year it passes!
Source: forbes.com, The First Marijuana Hearing Of The New Congress Has Been Scheduled, Tom Angell, Feb 6, 2019
wset.com, Sen. Kaine Introduces Bill To Allow Veterans Access To Medical Marijuana Through VA, Elizabeth Tyree, Feb 14, 2019
theverge.com, Senator Introduces A Bill To Legalize Marijuana and It’s Called S.420, Shannon Liao. Feb 8, 2019
forbes.com, New Congressional Marijuana Bill Is Actually Numbered H.R.420, Tom Angell, Jan 9, 2019