By Sadaf Naushad, NCIA Intern
As the cannabis industry progresses nationwide, the public demands Congress to pass major cannabis reforms. After months of opposition met among Congress members, a breath of fresh air awaits cannabis advocates, lobbyists, and consumers.
Last Thursday, two crucial congressmen revealed objectives to establish an extensive package of incremental cannabis proposals.
While Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) expects to file the final version of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) sometime this summer, lawmakers are using the draft language as a guide to propose an alternative backup bill in creating a cannabis “omnibus” package.
With the wide-ranging package garnering support across Democratic and Republican lawmakers, industry insiders have high hopes that both chambers could come together to endorse an effective, bipartisan bill by the end of this year.
Let’s discuss the potential inclusions within the bipartisan cannabis package.
Recently, a number of Congress members have discussed the possibility of creating a new cannabis bill that would comprise several incremental measures, including provisions focusing on banking, access to medical cannabis for veterans, research expansion, access to SBA programs, drug sentencing reformations, and more.
Lead sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) is hoping to incorporate protection for financial institutions operating with state-legal cannabis businesses in a potential package. According to Rep. Perlmutter, members also have interest in including Rep. Dave Joyce’s (R-OH) Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act, a bill designed to expunge prior marijuana convictions. Additionally, lawmakers are deliberating over granting cannabis businesses access to SBA loans and services that are obtainable to every other industry, a reform initially advocated by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV).
These four concerns –- veterans, research, expungements, and banking – constitute a small portion of the package’s considerations.
Congress will also potentially consider including a non-cannabis item as part of the wider deal, known as the EQUAL Act, which looks to alleviate racial disparities within the criminal justice system by eliminating the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.
Leader Schumer, however, faces the requirement of having a 60-vote threshold to pass legislation. Although the chamber comprises a slim majority of Democrats with the vast majority of GOP members opposing numerous past bills, the 60-vote requirement may be attainable. In contrast to Schumer’s CAOA, indications are that the incremental package has more broad bipartisan support.
Though members have not reached an official deal as these major reforms remain under deliberation, Congress members are not abandoning their efforts to push for a broader-based CAOA bill.
Currently in the bicameral conference committee remains the large-scale manufacturing bill, known as the America COMPETES Act. Leader Schumer has rejected attempts to integrate the SAFE Banking Act as currently written into the COMPETES Act, alleging that it may weaken the ability to approve a slightly larger cannabis reform package. Having passed the House six times, industry insiders feel certain that the Senate will authorize the SAFE Banking Act later this year.
Altogether, the above-mentioned legislation would come up short in federally descheduling cannabis; however, these provisions may acquire the support necessary to reach U.S. President Biden’s desk.