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Top Democrats Promise Swift Federal Cannabis Reform


A flurry of news and announcements from the U.S. Capitol suggest comprehensive marijuana reform could legitimately happen in 2021.


All eyes are on the U.S. Capitol these days.

For many, that’s because the landmark is currently serving both as the scene of the crime and the setting for the second impeachment and trial of former president Donald Trump. The Capitol is also where lawmakers are currently working to hammer out the details of a new, long-overdue Covid-19 relief bill.

Oh, and some of the top Democrats in charge are also talking a lot about legalizing cannabis.

One can be forgiven for perhaps missing the steady stream of news to emerge over the past several weeks, but when collected together, it serves as far more than a blip on the radar. Now in charge of the Senate (albeit by the slimmest possible margin), the House, and the White House, this trifecta is long what Democrats have said was needed to have a shot at passing comprehensive cannabis reform.

Well, as of late January, they got just what they wished for. And so far, they’ve kept to their word.

As context, any push to decriminalize or legalize cannabis will also be backed by incredible public support. In a poll conducted between Feb. 2 and 3, Emerson College surveyed nearly 1500 adults on a range of topical issues. According to their published results, legalizing cannabis was a more popular policy than raising the minimum wage to $15 or rejoining the Paris Climate Accord.

In total, 61% of those surveyed felt legalizing recreational cannabis was a good idea – the most support given to any of the national policy proposals Emerson College Polling asked about.

The survey’s timing was also incredibly astute, given it was only one day prior that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) issued a joint statement calling for a swift end to cannabis prohibition.

Calling such an effort “necessary to right the wrongs of this failed war and end decades of harm inflicted on communities of color across the country,” the trio went even further, asserting that it is also the duty of lawmakers to “enact measures that will lift up people who were unfairly targeted in the War on Drugs.”

Those are powerful words. Powerful enough that even NORML Political Director Justin Strekal — someone who has heard false promises on cannabis reform from Washington for decades —sounded enthusiastic about the effort in comments made to Marijuana Moment’s Kyle Jager.

“After years of marijuana policy reform being neglected and mocked by [Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)],” Strekal told Jager, “it is heartening to see these Senate leaders working together to repeal the senseless and cruel policy of marijuana prohibition. We look forward to constructively engaging with Congressional leaders, other organizations, and those communities that have historically been most impacted by criminalization in order to ensure that we craft the strongest and most comprehensive bill possible to right the wrongs of the nearly a century of federal cannabis prohibition.”

On Friday, Feb. 5, the same trio held a meeting with marijuana stakeholders to hear their concerns and suggestions.

As Marijuana Moment reported, the discussion lasted slightly over an hour and “included staffers from NORML, Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and other organizations affiliated with the Marijuana Justice Coalition.” There were also representatives from several business-focused cannabis organizations as well.

The topics discussed included everything from tax policy to social equity programs, with a baseline commitment made that any Senate bill would, “at a minimum, deschedule cannabis and seek to regulate it with a justice- and equity-focused approach”

Part of the reason for these ongoing discussions involves previously announced plans to merge multiple pieces of legislation targeting cannabis reform into one bill with consolidated support behind it. Exactly what elements of which bills will make the cut remains to be seen, although many presume the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act — which passed the House in December but did not advance in the GOP-controlled Senate — will serve as a blueprint of sorts.

Meanwhile, despite no clear sign that President Joe Biden is enthusiastic about the prospect of a cannabis reform bill landing on his desk, Schumer nonetheless met with Biden’s pick for attorney general, Merrick Garland, in addition to other Justice Department nominees, to impress upon them the importance of respecting states’ rights when it comes to cannabis.

And simultaneously to that, other bills concerning cannabis have also already been filed in Congress. In addition to bills seeking to reschedule cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III, to prevent the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs from continuing to deny veterans their benefits over legal medical marijuana use, and to classify hemp-derived CBD as a dietary supplement, a bipartisan coalition of senators (including noted cannabis naysayer Dianne Feinstein) just reintroduced a bill intended to ease restrictions on marijuana research.

All of this movement further served as the backdrop for a new group of cannabis businesses and advocacy groups to enter the spotlight in hopes of further streamlining the legalization process. In a Feb. 8 press release, the United States Cannabis Council (USCC) made its official debut.

The Council’s members include big names in the industry like Acreage Holdings, Canopy Growth, Curaleaf, Eaze, MedMen, and PAX Labs. Headed (at least on an interim basis) by Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) Executive Director Steven Hawkins, the USCC’s true intentions are yet to be known, but as a lobbying force, it’s hard to deny the collective power such a coalition could prospectively wield.

Though a number of important groups focused on patients’ advocacy and restorative justice declined to join with the USCC, it doesn’t sound as though anyone is ready to damn their efforts quite yet.

“We welcome the support from any group willing to work to bring about an end to our failed prohibition on marijuana,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri told Marijuana Moment, “[but] it is important for NORML’s mission to remain independent from industry and solely focused on representing the millions of cannabis consumers across the country.”

It’s a lot to take in and it’s also happening faster than ever before. All eyes are on the U.S. Capitol, and it sounds like they won’t be leaving anytime soon.

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