Republican Backed Bill Aims To Federally Legalize Marijuana
- A Republican congresswoman has filed a bill to legalize marijuana at the federal level.
- The move may mark the end of the partisan politics that have held back the federal legalization of marijuana.
- The comprehensive bill would remove marijuana from the DEA’s list of controlled substances and impose a three percent excise tax on all cannabis products.
- The bill would also expunge criminal records for anyone who has been convicted of certain non-violent cannabis offenses
We try to remain politically neutral. However, it’s fairly common knowledge that Democrats have typically been the more vociferous champions of federal cannabis policy reform and of ending the federal prohibition of marijuana, at least in appearance. But it appears that those days are now over — and few will miss them.
Democrat-led proposals — such as the MORE Act, the Cannabis Administration, and Opportunity Act, and the SAFE Banking Act — have had very limited support across party lines. And there’s skepticism that Democrats’ legalization bills will be able to pass without GOP buy-in. Many lawmakers and advocates alike feel that certain provisions in these proposals reach too far or don’t reach far enough.
In an attempt to bridge the partisan divide, Nancy Mace, a Republican representative from South Carolina has introduced the “States Reform Act” to federally legalize marijuana. Mace feels that her bill includes the most popular points of these proposals and hopes the measure will garner broad GOP support.
So far, a handful of House Republicans are listed as co-sponsors on the bill including Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA), Don Young (R-AK), Brian Mast (R-FL) and Peter Meijer (R-MI).
What’s in the bill?
Mace’s proposal is being billed as a compromise between Democrat-sponsored legislation and Republican inclinations. However, the bill is actually quite comprehensive.
Here are some of the provisions in the Republican-backed proposal to federally legalize marijuana:
- The States Reform Act aims to regulate marijuana similarly to the federal regulation of alcohol and puts cannabis regulatory responsibility in the hands of individual states. No state or local laws would be required to change.
- Most importantly, the bill would remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act effectively legalizing all forms of cannabis and its derivatives.
- A national age limit of 21 would be set for the sale and possession of recreational marijuana and cannabis-infused products. The limit would not apply to state-approved medical marijuana cardholders.
- All references to “marijuana” or “marihuana” in federal laws and regulations would be changed to “cannabis.”
- The Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau would be renamed the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Cannabis Tax and Trade Bureau. The agency would be responsible for creating a track and trace system for cannabis, issuing packaging and labeling requirements, and collecting taxes.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture would regulate cannabis cultivators. (Currently, state hemp cultivation regulatory plans must be approved by the USDA. The same would be true for cannabis.)
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration would be responsible for medical regulations such as approving dosage limits and use cases. (It has taken the FDA three years so far to address hemp and CBD regulations and there’s far more work to be done there.) Moreover, the FDA may not ban the use of cannabis or its derivatives in dietary supplements, foods, beverages, and cosmetics.
- The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives would be responsible for the enforcement of cultivation and trafficking laws.
- U.S. Trade Representatives will be able to send trade missions to countries that have legalized cannabis imports and exports.
- A 3% federal excise tax would be collected on all cannabis products and would be used to support community reinvestment, law enforcement, and Small Business Administration (SBA) activities. Cannabis businesses would become eligible for SBA loans and other relief. (This is far lower than the ridiculous 25 percent tax proposed by a Democrat-backed bill.)
- The measure would expunge criminal records for those with nonviolent cannabis-related offenses. Within one year of passage, approximately 2,600 incarcerated convicts could be exonerated.
- Doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs would be allowed to recommend the use of medical marijuana.
Why it matters
Most recent polling shows that more than two-thirds of Americans support legalizing marijuana. Moreover, 36 states and four territories already allow medical cannabis use, and 18 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia permit recreational use for adults regardless of the fact that marijuana is federally illegal.
Some industry stakeholders feel that federal regulation will add additional complexity and cost to this already complex and costly industry and would rather maintain the status quo. However, the bill could be a major boon for the U.S. cannabis industry.
Lawmakers in several states have pointed to federal prohibition as a reason for not legalizing medical and/or recreational marijuana. Should the bill pass, this will no longer be an issue.
Not everyone is high on the idea
Upon the announcement, the States Reform Act was met immediately with criticism from conservatives in Mace’s home state of South Carolina. Several lawmakers have vowed to oppose any effort toward legalization in the state. While the state allows doctors to recommend the use of CBD oil to their patients, it’s a moot point since the federal government legalized hemp-derived CBD oil at the end of 2018. Anyone can now buy CBD online without a prescription and without a medical marijuana card.
Also, Dave Wilson, president of Palmetto Family, a conservative Christian lobbying organization has labeled marijuana “the number one gateway drug to the exploding opioid crisis that is ravaging our state.” Wilson warned in a statement that efforts to decriminalize marijuana “will make this crisis exponentially worse.” In fact, the opposite is true; medical marijuana offers a safe and effective substitute for opioids for many patients.
Additionally, some cannabis policy reform advocates feel that certain provisions need to be amended. For example, Shaleen Title, a former Massachusetts cannabis regulator told Marijuana Moment, “The States Reform Act should remove the disqualifying offenses based on cannabis consumption and sales and instead disqualify applicants who have engaged in corporate crimes or fraud.”
Most importantly, President Biden has historically opposed the legalization of marijuana and is rather in favor of decriminalization (no jail time for personal possession). However, most advocates are confident that the president will sign legislation passed by both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. And if he does not, there is still a chance that a veto could be overruled by Congress.
In any case, polling shows that a supermajority of Americans — 68 percent — feel that the federal prohibition of marijuana should come to an end including a majority of democrats and republicans.
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SIDEBAR: What people are saying about the States Reform Act
“We’re hearing great feedback from both chambers from both sides of the aisle on this piece of legislation because it is a go-between, a turnkey piece of legislation that is a compromise between what has been filed previously on both sides of the aisle. This legislation, I believe, has something good for everyone whether you are a Democrat or a Republican.” ~ Rep. Nancy Mace (R) South Carolina
“Representative Mace, along with multiple other Republicans, has put forward comprehensive and sensible legislation to repeal marijuana criminalization and this effort deserves serious consideration.” ~ Justin Strekal of NORML
“The States Reform Act represents an opportunity for leaders in Congress to create stability and security for the American people. The failures of the War on Drugs are well-known and well-documented, and it is past time to move on from this misbegotten effort. Meanwhile, the developing cannabis industry cannot truly develop into an engine of entrepreneurship and second chances until cannabis sheds its uncertain federal legal status. This bill is a common-sense policy change that will create a free and fair regulatory system and ensure law enforcement is focused on preventing and solving serious crime.” ~ Brent Gardner, chief government affairs officer for the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity
Sources and additional reading
- States Reform Act
- New GOP weed approach: Feds must ‘get out of the way’
- Nancy Mace-led bill would federally decriminalize marijuana
- GOP Congresswoman Offers Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana
- Republican Lawmakers File Bill To Tax And Regulate Marijuana As Alternative To Democratic Proposals
- Support for Legal Marijuana Holds at Record High of 68%