The long-anticipated Senate bill to federally legalize marijuana will not be introduced this month, with Democratic leadership saying on Thursday that the timeline is being extended as they continue to work out various provisions “with the assistance of nearly a dozen Senate committees and input from numerous federal agencies.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said on several occasions that the bill he’s been working on with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) for many months would be formally filed by the end of April. That’s no longer the case, with the leader now saying the “official introduction” will take place sometime “before the August recess.”
A discussion draft of the Cannabis Administration & Opportunity Act (CAOA) was first unveiled last year, and advocates and stakeholders have been hanging on the leader’s words as they continue to push for an end to federal prohibition. Most recently, Schumer said last week that he and colleagues were in the process of reaching out to Republican senators to “see what they want” included in the legislation.
The timeline that Schumer previewed has apparently proved too ambitious—but the hope is that by taking extra time to finalize the measure, it will help the senators overcome what are currently significant odds stacked against them to reach a high vote threshold in the chamber, where Democrats hold just a slim majority and several members of the party have indicated that they’re not supportive of legalization.
CAOA is is “critical legislation that will finally put an end to the federal prohibition on cannabis and address the over-criminalization of cannabis in a comprehensive and meaningful way,” Schumer said in a press release. “I am proud of the progress made in bringing this vital bill closer to its official introduction before the August recess, and I want to thank the committee chairs who have worked with us and remained committed to addressing this issue.”
“CAOA will not only remove cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances, but also help repair our criminal justice system, ensure restorative justice, protect public health, and implement responsible taxes and regulations,” he said.
In the process of finalizing key provisions, working to build consensus with committee leadership and GOP members, the Senate sponsors detailed “key policies” of the bill that are being taken into consideration, including some that advocates would support that weren’t included in the discussion draft such as removing or scaling back drug testing for cannabis for certain federal workers.
Here’s a list of those policy areas that are being looked at as the senators continue to work the bill:
- Removing unnecessary federal employee pre-employment and random drug testing for cannabis, while preserving appropriate drug testing in transportation-related fields, other sensitive areas of employment, and investigations of accidents and unsafe practices.
- Specifying membership and duties of the Cannabis Products Advisory Committee, an entity created in the legislation which FDA would convene and consult before promulgating regulations.
- Clarifying market competition rules meant to protect independent retailers and prevent anti-competitive behavior, to ensure that those rules do not unintentionally undermine state programs that provide access to capital for social equity businesses.
- Broad review of agricultural and environmental laws applicable to cannabis, and working to ensure that appropriate environmental protections apply to cannabis production.
- Ensuring worker protections for those employed in the cannabis industry.
- Ensuring regulatory bodies and law enforcement have the resources and tools they need to protect the integrity of the legal cannabis marketplace.
- Strengthening cannabis business protections and opportunities under Small Business Administration programs.
- Clarifying the relationship between state governments and Indian tribal governments with respect to cannabis.
- Broad review of existing law to cannabis throughout the government, and developing a variety of additional policies to ensure consistent and appropriate treatment of cannabis.
“The federal cannabis ban is a senseless and failed relic that’s needlessly destroyed lives, stifled research and treated job-generating legal small businesses in Oregon and other states like criminal organizations,” Wyden said. “This outdated prohibition is long overdue for an end. And introducing final legislation as early as possible requires committees to continue their diligent work, and agencies to provide prompt analysis.”
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“Simply put, final text of this urgently needed legislation must be released well before the August recess to continue building momentum for cannabis reform,” he said.
Booker, for his part, said that as more and more states move to legalize cannabis, “Congress must enact comprehensive cannabis reform that will deliver restorative justice to communities to undo the harms of America’s failed drug policies.”
“After months of substantive progress we are close to finalizing a bill that reflects common sense drug policy and delivers long overdue justice,” the senator said.
Long story short: the CAOA is not ready for prime time just yet.
This development comes weeks after the U.S. House of Representatives approved a separate bill to federally legalize marijuana and promote social equity, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act from Judiciary Committee Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).
The largely partisan vote on that legislation, which saw only three Republicans vote in favor of passage, speaks to the challenges that a similar Senate bill might face, especially in the draft version released last year.
Meanwhile, several Republican members of Congress introduced a bill last November to federally legalize and tax marijuana as an alternative to far-reaching Democratic-led reform proposals and scaled-down GOP cannabis descheduling legislation. The sponsor of that bill, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), said she expects a committee hearing on her proposal.
On Thursday, a bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers filed a bill that would simply direct the attorney general to create a commission charged with making recommendations on a regulatory system for marijuana that models what’s currently in place for alcohol.
Reps. Dave Joyce (R-OH), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Brian Mast (R-FL) are teaming up on what’s titled the Preparing Regulators Effectively for a Post-Prohibition Adult-Use Regulated Environment Act (PREPARE) Act—an incremental reform meant to inform comprehensive cannabis policy changes in the future.
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