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New Senate Bill Would Create Federal Marijuana Commission To Prepare For Legalization



Marking the 10th anniversary since Colorado voters approved marijuana legalization at the ballot, Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) announced on Thursday that he will soon be filing a congressional bill to set the country up for federal cannabis reform.

Specifically, the Preparing Regulators Effectively for a Post-Prohibition Adult-Use Regulated Environment Act (PREPARE) Act would 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.

The measure is identical to a House companion bill that Reps. Dave Joyce (R-OH), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Brian Mast (R-FL) filed in April. Hickenlooper’s staff told Marijuana Moment that the Senate version will be formally introduced when the chamber returns from recess in mid-November.

The senator sees the commission that would be created by the legislation as similar to a task force he empaneled when he was Colorado’s governor to steer implementation of legalization at the state level.

“Colorado successfully pioneered marijuana legalization a decade ago, thanks in part to the Amendment 64 Task Force,” he said in a press release. “Federal legalization doesn’t need to start from scratch, and we should prepare for when it arrives.”

Hickenlooper recently participated in an event with current Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the state’s legalization vote, which he opposed at the time. He has since acknowledged, however, that many of his fears about ending prohibition haven’t materialized, particularly when it comes to youth cannabis use.

The new congressional measure would “provide lawmakers across the ideological spectrum the opportunity to engage on cannabis reform by creating a fair, honest and publicly transparent process for the federal government to establish effective regulation to be enacted upon the termination of its 85-year prohibition of cannabis,” according to a summary.

It would lead to the “development of a federal regulatory framework that will help ensure safety, accountability and economic growth among the 45+ states that have enacted cannabis legalization to some degree” while accounting for the “unique needs, rights and laws of each state.”

The idea of creating a “Commission on the Federal Regulation of Cannabis” could attract bipartisan support, especially among lawmakers who are reluctant to back legislation to federally legalize cannabis altogether.

That said, advocates have become increasingly impatient with marijuana incrementalism in Congress, imploring lawmakers to follow the lead of states and put an end to the widely unpopular policy of cannabis criminalization.

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The House has passed a comprehensive legalization bill on two occasions—and Senate leadership filed a separate reform measure in July—but it seems unlikely that the latter chamber will move to advance that proposal before the session ends in January.

Instead, the focus has been on moving a package of incremental cannabis reforms known colloquially as SAFE Plus, which is expected to include bipartisan marijuana banking legislation, as well as language on expungements and cannabis research.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on Sunday that Congress is getting “very close” to introducing and passing the package, citing progress he’s made in discussions with a “bunch of Republican senators.”

The PREPARE Act that Hickenlooper will be introducing on the Senate side seems like the kind of legislation that could fit within that incremental reform framework, but for now the focus is on the standalone.

“I’m thrilled that the PREPARE Act will be introduced in the Senate, making it not only further bipartisan, but bicameral, and bringing it one step closer to becoming law,” Joyce, the sponsor of the House version, said.

“This legislation gives lawmakers on both sides of the aisle the answers they need to effectively engage on cannabis reform, safely and effectively regulate it, and remedy the harms caused by the failed war on cannabis,” he said. “With those answers, Congress can develop a much-needed federal regulatory framework that not only respects the unique needs, rights, and laws of each state, but also ensures a responsible end to prohibition and a safer future for our communities.”

“I was proud to lead the introduction of this commonsense bill in the House and thank Senator Hickenlooper for advancing it in the Senate,” he added. “I look forward to continuing to work together to pave the way for more comprehensive reform.”

Here’s what the bill would accomplish:

Require the attorney general to establish a “Commission on the Federal Regulation of Cannabis” within 30 days of the bill’s enactment.

The commission would be responsible for studying federal and state regulatory models for alcohol and make recommendations about how they could inform marijuana regulations.

Among other things, the commission’s report must look at the impact of marijuana criminalization, particularly as it concerns minority, low-income and veteran communities.

The panel would also examine the “lack of consistent regulations for cannabis product safety, use and labeling requirements” as well as the “lack of guidance for cannabis crop production, sale, intrastate, interstate, and international trade.“

It would also need to make recommendations on how to remedy cannabis-related banking and research barriers as well as address measures to ensure the “successful coexistence of individual hemp and cannabis industries, including prevention of cross pollination of cannabis and hemp products.”

Members would further be mandated to study and make recommendations on “efficient cannabis revenue reporting and collecting, including efficient and tenable federal revenue frameworks.”

The panel would be required to issue a report to Congress within 12 months.

The panel would include representatives of:

  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • Department of Justice
  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Department of Interior
  • Department of Education
  • Department of Labor
  • Department of Commerce
  • National Institutes of Health
  • Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau
  • Food and Drug Administration
  • Internal Revenue Service
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology
  • Small Business Administration
  • U.S. Trade Representative

It would also include a person formerly incarcerated for a non-violent cannabis use or possession crime, a substance use disorder prevention expert, a medical cannabis patient or advocate, a historical expert on cannabis criminalization, a medically licensed individual with knowledge of cannabis use and treatments, a representative from a trade organization or nonprofit representing highly regulated adult goods and consumer package goods and two people who have worked to develop state-level regulatory systems.

Some of the appointments would be made by the attorney general, and others would come from congressional leaders. The bill also contains a stipulation that, “if after the commission is appointed there is a partisan imbalance of commission members, the congressional leaders of the political party with fewer members on the commission shall jointly name additional members to create partisan parity on the commission.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland, for his part, said during his Senate confirmation proceedings that it’s a waste of federal resources to go after people acting in compliance with state cannabis laws and recognized racial disparities in marijuana enforcement.

After President Joe Biden directed an administrative review into marijuana’s federal scheduling last month, the Justice Department was quick to say that it would carry out that obligation “expeditiously.”

Biden said this week that his separate mass pardon proclamation for federal marijuana possession offenses is one of the top things he’s done to improve the lives of Black Americans since taking office. However, he seemed to overstate the practical impact of his action by conflating the relief with expungements.

Meanwhile, the House sponsor of a marijuana banking bill said that he recently spoke with the Senate majority leader at an event at the White House and discussed the need to enact the bipartisan reform this session.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) said that he impressed upon the leader the importance of his SAFE Banking Act and Schumer assured him that the chamber is “working on it” and is “going to get going” on the reform.

Read the full text of Hickenlooper’s bill below:

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