As described in last week’s post, 2018 proved to be an exceptionally exciting year for the cannabis industry: five states approved legalization initiatives, Canada ended its nearly century-long prohibition, and legalization was a key issue in a number of gubernatorial races. Moreover, Congress helped cap off a robust year by legalizing hemp, and therefore hemp-derived products, through the 2018 Farm Bill. And notwithstanding the current gridlock in Washington, it appears that last year’s pro-cannabis momentum has carried over into 2019.
On January 9, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced H.R. 420, also called the “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act.” Many readers will remember Blumenauer from the eponymous Rohrabacher–Blumenauer amendment, the appropriations provision that prohibits the Justice Department from spending funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical cannabis laws. (Last fall, he also circulated a legalization agenda for a 2019 Democratic House.) Blumenauer’s proposed legislation provides for a complete overhaul of the federal government’s treatment of marijuana. Among other things, the bill:
- Decriminalizes marijuana by removing it from all schedules of the Controlled Substances Act;
- Amends the Federal Alcohol Administration Act to empower the Secretary of the Treasury to issue permits to those wishing to manufacture, distribute, or sell marijuana;
- Prohibits widespread advertising of marijuana;
- Grants to the Food and Drug Administration the same authority with respect to marijuana as the FDA has with respect to alcohol; and
- Transfers jurisdiction from the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Explaining his introduction of the bill, Blumenauer noted: “Our federal marijuana laws are outdated, out of touch, and have negatively impacted countless lives. Congress cannot continue to be out of touch with a movement that a growing majority of Americans support. It’s time to end this senseless prohibition.” And he’s correct in that assessment. According to a Pew Research Center study released last fall, nearly two-thirds of Americans support legalization at the federal level. As of this week, the bill has been referred to several committees for consideration.
To help shepherd the bill through Congress, Rep. Blumenauer also announced the new co-chairs of the 2019 bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Conference. Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Dave Joyce (R-OH) join Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Don Young (R-AK) to help shape the marijuana reform agenda in the new House. “The Cannabis Caucus was the first of its kind to create a forum for elected officials to collaborate on ways to address our outdated federal marijuana laws,” Blumenauer said in a public statement. “Congress is clearly out of step with the American people on cannabis when national support for federal marijuana legalization is at an all-time high and we saw several states move toward legalization last November.” In the previous Congress, the Caucus worked on a number of issues related to cannabis research, ensuring patient access to medicinal marijuana and tax reform. Hopefully, H.R. 420 is just the beginning of the Caucus’ bold plans for 116th Congress.