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Bipartisan Lawmakers File Amendments To Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Up For House Vote This Week

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Congressional lawmakers on both sides are the aisle are already filing proposed amendments to a bill that would federally legalize marijuana that’s up for a House floor vote this week.

Some of the proposals are related to researching the impacts of the policy change, though others would add restrictions on cannabis products. Meanwhile, one Democratic-led measure from a lawmaker who has previously voted against legalization would maintain certain federal marijuana penalties.

The House Rules Committee meeting where the amendments will be either blocked from further consideration or advanced toward votes by the full body was originally scheduled for Monday, but that’s now been pushed back to Wednesday. So far, several amendments have been introduced—but it’s possible that more will be filed in the days to come.

The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), already passed the House in 2020, but it did not advance in the Senate. It cleared the sponsor’s panel again this session in September.

Leadership confirmed late last week that the House would again hold a vote on the measure this week, and majority and minority leaders of the Judiciary Committee then released a nearly 500-page report on what the legislation would accomplish and outlining arguments for and against the reform.

Now, with a floor vote imminent, lawmakers are seeking changes. Here’s a description of what the proposed revisions would do: 

Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC) filed an amendment that would require the transportation secretary and attorney general to develop and publish “best practices for the recognition and testing of drivers impaired by marijuana” before any provision of the legalization bill could take effect, according to the text.

That last component is important, as it’s the only amendment so far that would make legalization contingent on the completion of a study.

Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA), one of just six Democrats to vote against the MORE Act last session, introduced three proposed changes.

The first would require the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to conduct a study on the “impact of the legalization of recreational cannabis by states on the workplace” and develop “best practices for use by employers that are transitioning their policies related to the use of recreational cannabis, prioritizing the development of best practices for employers engaged in federal infrastructure projects, transportation, public safety and national security.”

The second would mandate that the secretary of education conduct a study on “the impact of the legalization of recreational cannabis by states on schools and school-aged children” and develop “best practices for use by educators and administrators to protect school-aged children from any negative impacts of such legalization.”

The third would maintain enhanced federal penalties for distributing more than five grams of marijuana to a person under the age of 21 and for distributing more than five grams of marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school, college, playground or public housing authority, or within 100 feet of a youth center, public swimming pool or arcade.

A proposed revision from Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), who did vote in favor of the MORE Act last round, seeks to provide $10 million for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to conduct research on “technologies and methods that law enforcement may use to determine whether a driver is impaired by marijuana.”

Rep. Pete Pete Stauber (R-MN) filed an amendment to make it so immigrants could be deported for driving under the influence of marijuana.

Rep. Tiffany Thomas (R-WI) introduced two amendments. Her first would create a civil penalty for manufacturing or distributing cannabis products with any “constituent, ingredient or artificial or natural flavor additive (other than marijuana), including a fruit, vanilla, coconut, licorice, cocoa, chocolate, candy, confectionaries, menthol or coffee.”

Thomas’s second amendment would require that marijuana products be sold in packaging that is “designed or constructed to be significantly difficult for children under 5 years of age to open or obtain a toxic or harmful amount of the substance contained therein within a reasonable time and not difficult for normal adults to use properly.” It would also mandate that cannabis products be labeled with a warning that states: “The Surgeon General has determined pregnant women should not use marijuana, which affects the developing fetus, and is associated with adverse outcomes for newborns including lower birth weight, poor cognitive function, hyperactivity and other long-term consequences.”

When House leaders posted the MORE Act on the calendar late last week, it contained several revisions—mostly non-substantive—from the version that was introduced.

There was one change to the text that some advocates are cheering, as it seemingly would give additional leeway to businesses that would be required to get a federal permit to operate a marijuana business.

While the earlier version said a permit could be rejected if a prospective business’s premises “are not adequate to protect the revenue” generated from legalization, the new language says the rejection can be made if officials determine the premises “will not be adequate.

It seems like a minor revision, but the practical effect could be to make it so small businesses would have more flexibility to obtain a permit as they take steps to build out their operations while applications are pending.

What would the MORE Act do as drafted?

Nadler’s MORE Act would deschedule marijuana by removing it from the list of federally banned drugs under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). However, it would not require states to legalize cannabis and would maintain a level of regulatory discretion up to states.

Marijuana products would be subject to a federal excise tax, starting at five percent for the first two years after enactment and rising to eight percent by the fifth year of implementation.

Nobody could be denied federal public benefits based solely on the use or possession of marijuana or past juvenile conviction for a cannabis offense. Federal agencies couldn’t use “past or present cannabis or marijuana use as criteria for granting, denying, or rescinding a security clearance.”

People could not be penalized under federal immigration laws for any cannabis related activity or conviction, whether it occurred before or after the enactment of the legalization legislation.

The bill creates a process for expungements of non-violent federal marijuana convictions.

Tax revenue from cannabis sales would be placed in a new “Opportunity Trust Fund.” Half of those tax dollars would support a “Community Reinvestment Grant Program” under the Justice Department, 10 percent would support substance misuse treatment programs, 40 percent would go to the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) to support implementation and a newly created equitable licensing grant program.

The Community Reinvestment Grant Program would “fund eligible non-profit community organizations to provide a variety of services for individuals adversely impacted by the War on Drugs…to include job training, reentry services, legal aid for civil and criminal cases (including for expungement of cannabis convictions), among others.”

The program would further support funding for substance misuse treatment for people from communities disproportionately impacted by drug criminalization. Those funds would be available for programs offering services to people with substance misuse disorders for any drug, not just cannabis.

While the bill wouldn’t force states to adopt legalization, it would create incentives to promote equity. For example, SBA would facilitate a program to providing licensing grants to states and localities that have moved to expunge records for people with prior marijuana convictions or “taken steps to eliminate violations or other penalties for persons still under State or local criminal supervision for a cannabis-related offense or violation for conduct now lawful under State or local law.”

The bill’s proposed Cannabis Restorative Opportunity Program would provide funds “for loans to assist small business concerns that are owned and controlled by individuals adversely impacted by the War on Drugs in eligible States and localities.”

The comptroller general, in consultation with the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), would be required to carry out a study on the demographics of people who have faced federal marijuana convictions, “including information about the age, race, ethnicity, sex, and gender identity.”

The departments of treasury, justice and the SBA would need to “issue or amend any rules, standard operating procedures, and other legal or policy guidance necessary to carry out implementation of the MORE Act” within one year of its enactment.

Marijuana producers and importers would also need to obtain a federal permit. And they would be subject to a $1,000 per year federal tax as well for each premise they operate.

The bill would impose certain packaging and labeling requirements.

It also prescribes penalties for unlawful conduct such as illegal, unlicensed production or importation of cannabis products.

The Treasury secretary would be required to carry out a study “on the characteristics of the cannabis industry, with recommendations to improve the regulation of the industry and related taxes.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) would be required to “regularly compile, maintain, and make public data on the demographics” of marijuana business owners and workers.

Workers in “safety sensitive” positions, such as those regulated by the Department of Transportation, could continue to be drug tested for THC and face penalties for unauthorized use. Federal workers would also continue to be subject to existing drug testing policies.

References to “marijuana” or “marihuana” under federal statute would be changed to “cannabis.” It’s unclear if that would also apply to the title of the bill itself.

The move to hold another vote on the cannabis legalization bill comes weeks after congressional Democrats held a closed-to-press session at a party retreat that included a panel that largely centered on the reform legislation.

Meanwhile, advocates and stakeholders are eagerly awaiting the formal introduction of a separate Senate legalization bill that’s being finalized by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and colleagues. Schumer recently said the plan is to file that bill—the Cannabis Administration & Opportunity Act (CAOA)—in April.

Also in Congress, a separate bill to tax and regulate marijuana is also in play this session. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) is sponsoring that legislation, and she said in a recent interview that she’s received assurances from Democratic leaders that her States Reform Act will receive a hearing following the MORE Act floor vote.

Meanwhile, on the same day that it was announced that the MORE Act would be heading to the floor again, the Senate unanimously approved a bipartisan bill meant to promote research into marijuana, in part by streamlining the application process for researchers who want to study the plant and to encourage the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop cannabis-derived medicines.

Nearly 500-Page House Report On Marijuana Legalization Bill Previews Democratic And Republican Arguments

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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