In the United States, Democrats won't be more alone in legalizing cannabis at the federal level. As more states are regulating recreational and medical cannabis, also Republicans have come up with a proposal to regulate the market.

 

Republican Congresswoman Nancy Mace introduced to the House of Representatives in November 2021 the first Republicans' cannabis bill to regulate cannabis at the federal level.

 

Entitled "State Reform Act," the bill aims to end federal cannabis prohibition while ensuring that businesses in existing state markets can continue to operate untainted by changing federal rules.

 

The bill's provisions would decriminalize cannabis removing it from Schedule I of the 1971 Controlled Substances Act. It would institute a 3% federal excise tax on cannabis products to support veterans' programs and fund small businesses. Also, it would enact expungement for those convicted of nonviolent cannabis-related offenses. At the same time, the bill aims to protect military veterans from discrimination in federal hiring from cannabis use and protect children and young adults from consumption and advertising.

 

By introducing the bill, Mace said that this bill supports veterans, law enforcement, farmers, and businesses and provides good criminal justice reform. "The States Reform Act takes special care to keep Americans and their children safe while ending federal interference with state cannabis laws," Mace said in a statement.

 

Also, she said that Washington needs to provide a framework that allows states to make their own decisions on cannabis moving forward. Indeed, the State Reform Act leaves the single state to regulate the cannabis industry. This provision is a significant feature of the bill, and it represents one of the main differences from the bills introduced by the Democrats.

 

The Republican bill focuses on preserving the authority of single states to regulate and even prohibit the possession, use, sale, distribution, manufacturer, delivery, and related activities of cannabis within its borders. Also, the bill reorganizes the regulatory framework over cannabis legislation. Legislators would consider cannabis like alcohol. For this reason, the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) would be the chief regulator for this market. Instead, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would be limited in its regulatory authority by regulating only medical cannabis. According to the bill, raw cannabis would be considered an agricultural crop and apply to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulation.

 

The State Reform Act has received positive feedback from the cannabis community in the United States. However, some experts said it hadn't given enough space for social reforms compared with the Republicans' bill.

 

The Democrats' proposal to end the war on drugs counts on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, introduced to the House of Representatives by Jerry Nadler and the Senate by Kamala Harris in July 2019, just before becoming the 49th U.S. vice president of the United States in 2020.

 

The bill consists of funding social justice programs to rehabilitate communities damaged by the war on drugs. It also expunges cannabis-related convictions and taxes cannabis products at 5%. Furthermore, the MORE Act prohibits the federal government from discriminating against people because of cannabis use, including earned benefits or immigrants at risk of deportation. It would open the door to research, better banking and tax laws, and help fuel economic growth as states seek financial resources.

 

Both Republicans' and Democrats' proposals aim to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level as a starting point to regulate the market. But while the Republican proposal seeks to leave the single states to choose how to implement the federal cannabis legislation, the MORE Act focuses on social justice programs to reintegrate communities hit by the war on drugs.

 

Regarding the revenue from cannabis legalization, Republicans propose an excise tax at around 3%, while the MORE Act's tax design starts at 5% and increases to 8% over three years.

 

Democrats have also recently introduced another proposal to unwind the long-time unsuccessful drug war. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer introduced to Senate in July 2021 a bill to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level. The draft bill, called Cannabis Administration and Opportunity (CAO) Act, would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act. It would also aim to recompense to communities of color and the poor for damage from restrictive federal drug policy through expungement of nonviolent cannabis-related arrests and convictions by allocating new tax revenue (up to 25% on cannabis products) for restorative justice programs intended to lift communities affected by the war on drugs.

 

Although these bills may divide Republicans and Democrats, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, introduced by Representative Ed Perlmutter (Democrat), has received bipartisan support each time submitted to the House of Representatives. The bill aims to ensure access to financial services to cannabis-related businesses and service providers by removing ambiguities at the federal level.

 

Another point of convergence between Republicans and Democrats has found its place in the Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act, sponsored by Representatives Dave Joyce (Republican) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Democrat). The bill aims to encourage states to provide relief to people with nonviolent cannabis convictions through federal grants.

 

The Republican proposal to legalize cannabis at the federal level is the sign of a new course to debate on how to regulate the market. The State Reform Bill contributes new ideas to the policy discussion on Capitol Hill.

 

However, the path to legalizing cannabis may risk politicization if the different perspectives between Democrats and Republicans don't find an agreement.

 

Furthermore, they will need to put on the table a proposal in line with the vision of U.S. President Joe Biden over cannabis. Biden has recently reconsidered the role of cannabis within American society. Although his stance on the topic is far from full legalization, he has taken up the idea of the federal decriminalization of cannabis during his Presidential campaign in 2020.

 

But to find an efficient balance to regulate recreational cannabis, both Republicans and Democrats should compromise several aspects of the cannabis reform, including taxation, social reforms, and the implementation of federal legislation at the state level.

Written and Published by Dario Sabaghi in Weed World Magazine Issue 157

Image: Pexels