Congressional leaders in the effort to reform U.S. cannabis policy published a plan to legalize marijuana nationwide in 2022, saying that is “time for the federal government to catch up to the rest of the country.” In a memo from Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Rep. Barbara Lee of California, the co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus issued a progress report on steps taken by Congress on marijuana legalization in 2021. They also outlined steps to continue the effort next year, citing several pieces of legislation pending before the nation’s lawmakers.
“The table is set and the time is right for comprehensive cannabis reform, which will make a huge difference for people around the country,” Blumenauer said in a statement on December 16. “This year, we’ve advanced the MORE Act closer to the finish line, passed the SAFE Banking Act, and made progress in terms of research. Most importantly, we’ve watched this issue gain more momentum than ever with the American people—almost 70 percent of whom, including a majority of Republicans, want to see federal reform. Let’s get it done.”
In the memo, Blumenauer and Lee write that “2021 was a transformative year for cannabis reform, in which five new states–New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Virginia, Connecticut–legalized adult-use cannabis, and Alabama became the 37th state to legalize medical cannabis. A wealth of policy ideas targeted at ending cannabis prohibition on the federal level have also been introduced on Capitol Hill. This growing bipartisan momentum for cannabis reform shows 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.”
Lawmakers List Legislative Priorities for 2022
The memo also details priorities for next year, including federal descheduling of marijuana, sentencing reform, industry equity, and support for cannabis research. The plan includes several pieces of legislation already under consideration by Congress, including the SAFE Banking Act and the MORE Act. Under the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, federal banking regulators would be prohibited from penalizing banks that choose to serve cannabis firms doing business in compliance with state law. The legislation was initially introduced in the House of Representatives in 2013 by Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, who has reintroduced the bill every congressional cycle since.
Under the MORE Act, cannabis would be removed from the list of drugs regulated by the Controlled Substances Act, criminal penalties for federal cannabis offenses would be eliminated, and past federal cannabis convictions would be expunged. The bill, H.R. 3617, also establishes a tax on retail cannabis sales, with revenue raised by the tax invested in communities that were harmed under federal marijuana prohibition policies. The legislation was approved by the House Judiciary Committee in September and is still pending before several other House committees in its path to approval.
Blumenauer and Lee, both Democrats, also made note of an alternative to the MORE Act introduced by Republican Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina. They wrote that Mace’s bill, the States Reform Act, “adds an additional bipartisan perspective as to how to best normalize our nation’s cannabis laws.”
Creating an Equitable Cannabis Industry
The memorandum released by Lee and Blumenauer also calls for progress on sentencing reform for those convicted of federal cannabis offenses, arguing that “we must expunge cannabis-related convictions and allocate more resources to communities most impacted by the racist War on Drugs” once cannabis is legalized nationally. The lawmakers also called for support for research into the therapeutic effects of cannabis, including for veterans, as well as provisions to ensure equity in the cannabis industry once legalization is achieved.
“For states making progress on cannabis reform, we must ensure access to the growing cannabis industry is equitable,” the memo reads. “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.”
In total, the memo cites nearly two dozen pieces of legislation that have been introduced to advance cannabis policy reform at the national level. Lee said that it is “time for the federal government to catch up to the rest of the country and start leading on cannabis reform.”
“The solutions for comprehensive reform are there, and this year we made progress. We’ve passed the MORE Act in the House, the SAFE Banking Act, and several Appropriations provisions,” Lee said in last week’s joint statement. “It’s far past time Congress move to finally get this across the finish line. Ending the war on drugs is an issue of racial equity and a moral imperative.”