Republican-Led Bill To Legalize And Tax Marijuana Emerges As Alternative To Democratic Measures
A new Republican-led congressional marijuana legalization bill is imminent, Marijuana Moment has learned. The measure is being framed by advocates as a compromise between simple descheduling as proposed by other GOP lawmakers and wide-ranging comprehensive legislation that Democratic leaders are championing.
Marijuana Moment obtained text of the draft legislation, which is being led by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC). The measure, titled the States Reform Act, is currently being circulated among stakeholders for feedback and is therefore preliminary, but a final version is expected to be officially filed later this month.
This is yet another development in what’s proved to be an active year cannabis reform on Capitol Hill. But the GOP angle is notable, as many have raised doubts about the prospects of Congress passing the far-reaching, large-scale marijuana bills that Democrats are leading in the House and Senate. Getting Republican buy in could prove critical to getting something over the finish line, and the Mace measure seems aimed at appealing to the states’ rights and business interests of conservative colleagues on her side of the aisle while also incorporating some restorative justice and tax elements largely favored by progressives.
The freshman congresswoman, who was the sole GOP vote in favor of a cannabis research bill for veterans during a committee markup on Thursday, is aiming to federally deschedule marijuana and create a regulatory scheme—but still ensure that existing state markets are not unduly burdened or undermined by new rules.
Here’s a rundown of the details based on the draft legislation and summary documents obtained by Marijuana Moment:
-Cannabis would be federally descheduled and treated in a manner similar to alcohol.
-A 3.75 percent excise tax would be imposed on cannabis sales. Revenue would support grant programs for community reentry, law enforcement and Small Business Administration (SBA) aid for newly licensed businesses.
-The Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) would be the chief regulator for marijuana with respect to interstate commerce.
-The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would be limited in its regulatory authority, with the intent being that it would have no more control over cannabis than it does for alcohol except when it comes to medical cannabis. The agency could prescribe serving sizes, certify designated state medical cannabis products and approve and regulate pharmaceuticals derived from marijuana, but could not ban the use of cannabis or its derivates in non-drug applications, like in designated state medical cannabis products, dietary supplements, foods, beverages, non-drug topicals or cosmetics.
-Raw cannabis would be considered an agricultural commodity regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
-The legislation would grandfather existing state-licensed cannabis operators into the federal scheme to ensure continued patient access and incentivize participation in the legal market.
-As federal agencies work to promulgate rules, there would be safe harbor provisions to protect patients and marijuana businesses acting in compliance with existing state laws.
-People with certain federal cannabis convictions that were non-violent would be eligible for expungements.
-To prevent youth use, there would be a mandatory 21 age limit for recreational cannabis, and the bill also prescribes certain restrictions on things like advertising.
-SBA would need to treat marijuana businesses the same as other regulated markets, like it does for alcohol companies, for example.
-The measure also stipulates that veterans can’t face discrimination in federal hiring due to cannabis use, and doctors with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) would be specifically authorized to issue recommendations for medical cannabis for veterans.
-Federal agencies could continue to drug test for marijuana.
-The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) would be required to issue a report to Congress on the marijuana industry.
The draft bill is 116 pages, so these details represent just a portion of what’s comprised in the legislation. And again, the provisions are subject to change as the proposal is finalized ahead of its formal introduction in Congress.
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It’s also not clear what other GOP offices will be involved when the bill is officially rolled out. Marijuana Moment reached out to Mace’s office, but staff declined the opportunity to comment by time of publication.
The Republican-led effort sets the stage for some interesting debate. Advocates have already rallied behind measures such as the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which recently cleared the House Judiciary Committee, as well as a reform bill that’s being finalized on the Senate side, led by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).
It’s unlikely that the champions behind those measures would want to cede the issue to a Republican-led bill, even if it does contain components meant to appeal to Democrats and justice reform advocates.
But it’s possible the legislation will garner favor with industry stakeholders who are eager for a passable legalization proposal. Mace’s legislation takes specific steps to preserve the markets that have already been established in states while ensuring that they have the resources to expand under federal regulations.
Some Republicans have led, or joined their Democratic colleagues, on other marijuana bills, but they’ve generally been far more scaled back measures—simply protecting states that choose to legalize or descheduling cannabis without touching social equity issues or creating a federal tax on sales.
In any case, polling shows that the public is ready for an end to prohibition. Sixty-eight percent of U.S. adults said they back legalizing cannabis in a Gallup poll released this week—and that includes majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents.
Yet, despite that support, President Joe Biden continues to oppose adult-use legalization. Instead, he’s supportive of more modest proposals to federally decriminalize cannabis, legalize the plant for medical use and let states set their own policies.
Whether he’d sign any Democratic- or Republican-led legalization bill is an open question.
While the president is personally against comprehensively ending prohibition, the Congressional Research Service released a report on Wednesday explaining steps he and his administration could take to repair the harms of cannabis criminalization.
Congressional Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Research Bill For Veterans Despite Biden Administration Opposition