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Congressional Cannabis Caucus Co-Chairs Introduce Federal Reform Legislation

A pair of House Republicans aren’t holding their horses on cannabis reform activity in the Senate.

Reps. Dave Joyce, R-Ohio, and Don Young, R-Alaska, introduced a bill May 12—the “Common Sense Cannabis Reform for Veterans, Small Businesses and Medical Professionals Act”— that would remove cannabis from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act.

In addition, the legislation would also protect depository institutions that provide financial services to “legitimate” cannabis-related businesses; provide safe harbor for veterans to use, possess or transport medical cannabis in compliance with state laws; and direct two studies on cannabis as it pertains to pain management and impairment through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), according to the bill’s text.

Joyce and Young’s efforts come as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and fellow Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., continue to work on drafting a federal reform bill to end prohibition in the upper chamber. They released a joint statement regarding their comprehensive reform efforts in February but have yet to introduce the measure.

Comprehensive cannabis reform took hold in the House last Congress via the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would have removed cannabis as a Scheduled I controlled substance and eliminated criminal penalties for an individual who manufactures, distributes or possesses cannabis. While it passed the House last year, 228-164, the bill never advanced in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The chief sponsor of the MORE Act, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., plans to reintroduce the 87-page legislation this Congress, he said during a House Judiciary Subcommittee meeting in March.

In the meantime, Joyce and Young introduced their bill Wednesday. The 14-page legislation isn’t as long-winded but puts the removal of cannabis as a controlled substance, banking protection, reform for veterans and mandated NIH studies at the forefront. It does not include social justice and equity provisions.

“With more than 40 states taking action on this issue, it’s past time for Congress to recognize that continued cannabis prohibition is neither tenable nor the will of the American electorate,” Joyce said in a press release.

“My legislation answers the American people’s call for change and addresses our states’ need for clarity by creating an effective federal regulatory framework for cannabis that will help veterans, support small businesses and their workers, allow for critical research and tackle the opioid crisis, all while respecting the rights of states to make their own decisions regarding cannabis policies that are best for their constituents,” he said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this bill signed into law so that we can enact sensible and meaningful cannabis reform that will improve lives and livelihoods.”

Joyce’s advocacy for cannabis reform is not new. He also co-sponsored the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act and was vocal in his support of that legislation on the House floor when it cruised to passage by a 321-101 vote last month.

In 2018, the House Appropriations Committee passed a provision known as the Joyce Amendment (formerly the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment), which prevents the U.S. Department of Justice from spending federal funds on prosecuting state-legal medical cannabis businesses.

A former U.S. House member, Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California, launched the Congressional Cannabis Caucus in 2017 with fellow Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Young, who now co-chairs the caucus with Joyce.

“For too long, the federal government’s outdated cannabis policies have stood in the way of both individual liberty and a state’s 10th Amendment rights. It is long past time that these archaic laws are updated for the 21st century,” said Young, whose home state of Alaska legalized adult-use cannabis through a ballot measure in 2014. “This bill takes significant steps to modernize our laws by removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and allowing the VA to prescribe medical cannabis to veterans, in addition to finally permitting state-legal cannabis businesses to utilize traditional financial services.”

The bill would also direct the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to issue rules to regulate cannabis modeled after the alcohol industry within one year of enactment.

Steve Hawkins, the executive director of Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement that he’s encouraged to see Republican leadership to end the federal prohibition and criminalization of cannabis. Reform is a bipartisan matter ripe for immediate solution, he said.

“With an overwhelming majority of Americans supporting the end of cannabis prohibitions, it’s clear that our country has a mandate to create a legal industry that supports both medical and adult-use,” Hawkins said. “It’s a bipartisan issue and the ‘Common Sense Cannabis Reform for Veterans, Small Businesses and Medical Professionals Act’ introduced by Reps. Dave Joyce and Don Young is a promising step forward.”

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