Any day now, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Senators Cory Booker and Ron Wyden, are expected to unveil the most comprehensive piece of cannabis reform legislation ever drafted.
But exactly when the bill will be released, and how far it will go in Congress, is anyone’s guess. As for the release, early rumors suggested it would drop on 4/20, but those quickly dissipated. On February 1, the senators promised it “in the early part of this year,” and May is arguably at the outer limits of that timeframe.
Though, whatever is released from Schumer’s office won’t be a finalized bill. The lawmakers are calling it “a unified discussion draft,” which is apt considering that the legislation looks like it’s going to be, at best, a conversation starter this year.
Back in January, when President Joe Biden took office and Democrats took over Congress, an unprecedented, albeit narrow, window opened for cannabis reform, as Cannabis Wire noted at the time in a deep-dive preview. Since then, considering Biden’s ambitious priorities from Covid-relief to infrastructure that will consume plenty of political energy on both sides, that window has only become narrower. On the other hand, what hasn’t slowed is support for reform, or overall momentum toward it, and the Big Bill will, if nothing else, put a national spotlight on the nittier and grittier questions around what, exactly, national legalization might look like.
In the meantime, nine bills have been introduced in Congress that generally aim to build a bridge across the gaps created when state and federal cannabis laws disconnect. Today, 18 states have legalized cannabis for adult use, and most states have legalized its medical use, and despite the fact that lawmakers and regulators from coast to coast have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours setting up a multibillion dollar industry, the federal approach to cannabis hasn’t budged since the 1970s.
The implications are wide ranging. A veteran, for example, who wants to obtain a state-legal product from their local medical cannabis shop cannot seek permission from their Department of Veterans Affairs doctor, as that doctor is bound by federal law. Another example: a state-legal cannabis business might find accounts terminated due to a financial institution’s policy on handling transactions that are federally illegal.
The bills introduced so far in Congress focus on these two areas: veterans and business. But, there are implications, too, for individuals in public housing, schools, hospitals and nursing homes, and on tribal lands, to name a few. (See Cannabis Wire’s resource page for more.)
And while these bills could provide piecemeal solutions, the reality is that the disagreement between state and federal law is, to quote the governors of Washington and Rhode Island way back in 2011, even before adult use further complicated the landscape, “untenable.”
Here are the bills in Congress today:
“To prohibit the Secretary of Veterans Affairs from denying a veteran benefits administered by the Secretary by reason of the veteran participating in a State-approved marijuana program, and for other purposes.”
“To create a safe harbor for insurers engaging in the business of insurance in connection with a cannabis-related legitimate business, and for other purposes.” (Introduced in the House as H.R.2068)
“To create protections for financial institutions that provide financial services to cannabis-related legitimate businesses and service providers for such businesses, and for other purposes.” (Passed in the House; introduced in the Senate as S.910)
“To allow veterans to use, possess, or transport medical marijuana and to discuss the use of medical marijuana with a physician of the Department of Veterans Affairs as authorized by a State or Indian Tribe, and for other purposes.”
“To decriminalize cannabis, to establish an Equitable Licensing Grant Program in the Small Business Administration, and for other purposes.”
H.R.2652 – Ensuring Access to Counseling and Training Programs for All Small Business Act
“To ensure that certain entrepreneurial development services of the Small Business Administration are made available to cannabis-related legitimate businesses and service providers, and for other purposes.”
“To ensure that certain loan programs of the Small Business Administration are made available to cannabis-related legitimate businesses and service providers, and for other purposes.”
“A bill to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out a series of clinical trials on the effects of cannabis on certain health outcomes of veterans with chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and for other purposes.”
(Introduced in the House as H.R.2916)
“To direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to conduct and support research on the efficacy and safety of medicinal cannabis, and for other purposes.”