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Senator Files Bill To Get Country Ready For Federal Marijuana Legalization Amid Heightened Reform Talks



Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) on Thursday formally filed a previously announced bill to set the country up for federal marijuana legalization.

The timing of the introduction is meant to roughly coincide with the 10-year anniversary of his home state of Colorado’s vote to legalize adult-use cannabis.

He previewed the legislation at an event in October marking that anniversary and formally announced his intent to file it last month.

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.

“A decade after Colorado pioneered marijuana legalization, Americans overwhelmingly support the same at the federal level,” Hickenlooper said in a press release. “This bipartisan, bicameral framework, based on Colorado’s Amendment 64 Task Force, will replicate our success nationally.”

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.

“I’m thrilled that the PREPARE Act has been introduced in the Senate, making it not only further bipartisan, but bicameral, and bringing it one step closer to becoming law,” Joyce said on Thursday. “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.”

“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. I look forward to continuing to work with him and my fellow Cannabis Caucus Co-Chairs in the House to pave the way for more comprehensive reform.”

Joyce separately brought up the PREPARE Act during an interview with RealClearPolitics that was sponsored by the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation (CPEAR) and released on Thursday, in which he and two other GOP House members discussed the path forward for federal cannabis reform in the lame duck session and next Congress.

“As the nation’s first governor to implement a regulatory structure for cannabis, CPEAR applauds Senator Hickenlooper’s efforts to promote a federal regulatory framework for this burgeoning industry,” CPEAR Executive Director Andrew Freedman, who previously served as Colorado’s first marijuana czar, said. “As an American cash crop, cannabis is now one of the most valuable crops in the nation, making it clear that cannabis consumers, business owners, and patients deserve a transparent process that terminates cannabis prohibition and creates much-needed federal guardrails.”

While Hickenlooper voiced opposition to Colorado’s 2012 legalization vote when he served as governor, he’s since acknowledged that many of his fears about ending prohibition haven’t materialized, particularly when it comes to youth cannabis use. And he’s now a key legislative advocate for reform.

The new congressional measure he’s sponsoring 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.”

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

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.

Here’s a description of the key provisions of the PREPARE Act:

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

The bill 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.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

“We applaud the PREPARE Act’s efforts to create an equitable commission that takes into consideration various viewpoints and topics,” Aaron Smith, CEO of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), said.

“In particular, we are pleased to see provisions included in the bill that would require the commission to identify the impact of cannabis criminalization, particularly on minority, low income, and veteran communities, the lack of access to the financial sector for cannabis entrepreneurs and industries, and the lack of access to cannabis related research,” he said.

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

“The Biden administration’s review of cannabis scheduling, midterm ballot measures, and polling on cannabis decriminalization all signal that the end of cannabis prohibition isn’t just inevitable—it’s imminent,” U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC) CEO Khadijah Tribble said. “The PREPARE Act would help ensure that the federal government has a plan in place to ensure a smooth and responsible transition to legal cannabis.”

Justin Strekal, founder of the Better Organizing to Win Legalization (BOWL), said that it’s “critical that Congress thoughtfully prepare to regulate the rapidly growing legal consumer marketplace.”

“How to properly and efficiently address labeling, advertising, licensing, public health concerns, and other post-prohibition regulatory aspects are crucial components that have yet to be addressed in a bipartisan way and the PREPARE Act can be the vehicle to do just that,” he said.

(Disclosure: Strekal supports Marijuana Moment’s work through a monthly pledge on Patreon.)

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.

And while the basic idea of creating an infrastructure for federal legalization is broadly supported, there are some activists who have criticized bills like the PREPARE Act over concerns that lawmakers are too readily accepting that marijuana regulations should mirror those in place for the alcohol industry.

Shaleen Title, founder and director of Parabola Center for Law and Policy, wrote about the issue in a recent op-ed for Marijuana Moment.

“Why would Congress instruct a commission of experts to create a framework for the cannabis plant just like alcohol? Isn’t the point of such a commission to examine the plant and consider possible frameworks—and related data—to decide what fits?” she wrote. “It was perhaps a useful analogy a decade ago to remind people what a regulated substance looks like, but today it’s worth noting that cannabis is not alcohol, or tobacco, or a pharmaceutical, and it should not be regulated identically to any other product.”

Meanwhile, 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.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), the House sponsor of a bipartisan marijuana banking bill, said this week that he sees signs that the Senate will finally act during the lame duck session—but he is cautioning that he’s “been disappointed before.”

Talks on the omnibus bill have been intensifying in recent weeks, with the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) discussing the proposal with key bipartisan senators. But as Perlmutter noted, time is running thin.

The majority leader said in late October that Congress is getting “very close” to introducing and passing the marijuana banking and expungements bill, citing progress he’s made in discussions with a “bunch of Republican senators.”

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), meanwhile, said following the election that Democrats who want to enact cannabis reform must either do it “now” during the lame duck session or wait until “many years from now” when his party has a shot at controlling Congress again.

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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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