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Seven 2017 Cannabis Legalization Bills in Play and What That Means for the Industry

There is now a wide assortment of bills in Congress related to cannabis (and hemp) legalization and use. And while most of these bills have not seen movement in 2017, the sheer number of them introduced in 2017 are creating a perfect storm for attention from Congress and more active committee discussion in 2018.

Here are a seven of the most active or long-ranging bills that cannabis business owners should be tracking and why:

  1. Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act of 2017 (Senate bill 1803 sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and introduced September 13). The bill is designed to improve the process for conducting scientific research on marijuana as a safe and effective medical treatment. In introducing this legislation, Senator Hatch was joined by Senator Schatz (D-HI) and co-sponsors Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC). Since then, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) have also signed on as cosponsors. The bill currently resides in the Senate Judiciary Committee. In announcing the bill, Hatch said the country has experimented with a variety of state solutions “without properly delving into the weeds on the effectiveness, safety, dosing, administration, and quality of medical marijuana.” In his speech on the Senate floor, Hatch reminded his colleagues that “it would be no surprise that he is strongly against the use of recreational marijuana. But I worry that in our zeal to enforce the law, we too often blind ourselves to the medicinal benefits of natural substances like cannabis,” he said. “While I certainly do not support the use of marijuana for recreational purposes, the evidence shows that cannabis possesses medicinal properties that can truly change people’s lives for the better.” Why this bill matters: Hatch, a Mormon and a conservative, is a late convert to the benefits of medical marijuana and shows just how far acceptance for medical marijuana  has come.
  2. The Marijuana Justice Act (Senate bill 1689 sponsored by Senator Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, and introduced August 1). Booker introduced his bill with a flurry of press, much of it addressing how his bill would create reparations for those communities and individuals damaged from law enforcement and wrongful incarceration. It called for $500 million to fix the damages from the war on drugs. But no co-sponsors have joined, and the bill currently resides in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Why this bill matters: Booker is seen as a rising star in Congress and took a political risk by introducing this bill. The bill attempts to correct the effects of the war on drugs and the racial disparities in law enforcement, which makes it accessible to support from other members of Congress as part of a broader bi-partisan social agenda.
  3. Veterans Equal Access Act (House bill 1820 sponsored by Representative Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, and introduced March 30). Blumenauer is one of the foremost proponents of cannabis legalization in Congress who is the co-creator of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment that bars the Justice Deparment from using its funds to shut down medical marijuana facilities in states where medical marijuana is legal. He also supports the Americans for Safe Access group, and the bill for which that organization advocates – the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act (CARERS). This bill has 18 co-sponsors, including Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) and Representative Tom Garrett (R-VA), all of whom are sponsors or co-sponsors of other marijuana-related bills. It has not moved since it was referred to the House Subcommittee on Health just a day after it was introduced. Why this bill matters: More veterans organizations – such as the American Legion, as demonstrated  during a recent press conference on the Hill – are stepping up their efforts to legalize marijuana for pain management and PTSD, and will be using this bill or introducing others in the coming year to finally get what they want – or at least get closer to what they want.
  4. Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act (House bill 2920 sponsored by Representative Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, and introduced June 15). This bill is designed to extend the principle of federalism to state drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana. One of the most active marijuana legalization related bills, it has a record (for marijuana bills) 25 co-sponsors now, with ten joining since the beginning of October, including three just this week. Co-sponsors include legalization advocates sponsoring or co-sponsoring other marijuana legalization bills: Reps. Rohrabacher, Thomas, Blumenauer and Polis. The bill currently resides in three House committees: Energy and Commerce, Judiciary and Veterans’ Affairs. Why this bill matters: This bill is about helping seriously sick people get treatment – especially children and others with epilepsy – and help fix the opioid epidemic. Because of the child epilepsy issue, this bill makes it easier for advocates of the bill to demonstrate real-world medical solutions that change lives to fence-sitting members of Congress.
  5. Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act (House bill 1841, sponsored by Representative Jared Polis, D-Colorado, and introduced March 30). This bill was originally referred to five House committees – Judiciary, Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means (subcommittee on Trade), Natural Resources (subcommittee on Federal Lands) and Agriculture. It has 17 co-sponsors (16 Democrats), including seven from California and both legalization advocates on other bills (Representative Earl Blumenauer and Dana Rohrabacher). Why this bill matters: This bill puts the legalization matter to a straight-forward solution that makes it easier to understand, with the hope that it helps Congress see a reasonable and historical pathway to legalization.
  6. Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017 (House bill 1227, sponsored by Representative Tom Garrett, R-Virginia, and introduced on February 27). This bill is essentially the same bill as a similar 2015 Bernie Sanders bill about ending federal prohibition which stalled in committee. This bill amends the Controlled Substances Act to provide that the Act’s regulatory controls and administrative, civil, and criminal penalties do not apply to marijuana. “Senator Sanders had an identical bill,” Garrett says. “I know that because my legislative staff poached the bill. All we really changed was the spelling of marijuana. His bill spelled it ‘marihuana’.” It has 15 co-sponsors, including leading legalization advocates Blumenauer, Polis and Rohrabacher. It was referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations in mid-March. Why this bill matters: Revising an essentially dead version of this bill created a stir originally but has since followed in the same pathway of other legalization bills by stalling in committee. But it is one of the oldest bills that directly addresses the need for ending federal prohibition, and could be the bill that actually does that.
  7. Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017 (House bill 975, sponsored by Representative Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, and introduced February 7). This bill also amends the Controlled Substances Act to provide that the Act’s regulatory controls and administrative, civil, and criminal penalties do not apply to a person who produces, possesses, distributes, dispenses, administers, or delivers marijuana in compliance with state laws. It has 24 co-sponsors, including both Representatives Blumenauer and Polis, and now resides in the House Subcommittee on Health where it has been three days after it was introduced. Why this bill matters: This bill promotes the state’s right issue of marijuana legalization, a critical component of keeping the industry moving forward and focused on full country-wide legalization.
David HodesDavid Hodes

David Hodes

David Hodes is based in the greater Washington DC metropolitan area. He is the former editor of seven different business magazines, and has contributed feature articles to several business/lifestyle publications and national cannabis magazines. Hodes is also a former field producer for CBS News, NBC, NFL Network, ESPN and other media outlets; worked as a news promotions producer for two network affiliates; and was the morning news editor for a third network affiliate.

He is member of the National Press Club, and deputy booking agent for the National Press Club Headliners Committee.

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