Congress might not have enacted the major marijuana reforms this year that advocates had hoped they would, but in a new report bipartisan lawmakers are touting several modest wins they were able to achieve—saying they are “optimistic” the issue will continue to advance even further in 2023.
In an end-of-year memorandum, the Congressional Cannabis Caucus listed their accomplishments, which includes President Joe Biden signing the first-ever piece of standalone marijuana reform legislation to promote research into the plant.
Co-chairs Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dave Joyce (R-OH), Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Brian Mast (R-FL) also recognized the passing of founding caucus member Rep. Don Young (R-AK) earlier this year.
They said he was fiercely dedicated to “ensuring Alaskans and all Americans had the opportunity for a better life not just for today, but also for tomorrow and the future.”
In terms of legislative accomplishments this year, the caucus had far more to note on the House side: a marijuana legalization bill passed the chamber, as did cannabis banking reform legislation.
Unfortunately for advocates, the bipartisan momentum in the House generally did not translate into passage in the Senate, except for the cannabis research bill that Biden signed. And there was subtle recognition in the memo that the task may continue to prove challenging in the next Congress, which will see Republicans take control of the House.
“The Congressional Cannabis Caucus has brought together a broad coalition of members from diverse communities around the country who all agree: it is time for Congress to finally reform federal cannabis policy,” they wrote. “There will be some big changes in the next Congress, but one thing that will not change is that a majority in both the House and the Senate favor reform. We are optimistic for our ability as a caucus to help navigate these changes and make further progress.”
Blumenauer, who has been one of the most vocal and consistent champions of marijuana reform on Capitol Hill, said in a press release that he’s “proud that we made historic progress towards ending the failed federal prohibition on cannabis.”
Of course, that pride accompanies disappointment this year: despite the House progress, lawmakers were unable to pass a much-anticipated package of incremental cannabis reforms—the so-called SAFE Plus legislation to fix marijuana banking issues and facilitate expungements.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) worked to build bipartisan, bicameral consensus, but the legislation was ultimately excluded from large-scale defense and spending bills this month, in large part due to opposition from key GOP members like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
The caucus is highlighting smaller victories and recommitting to advancing the issue further next year.
“While work remains, there have been significant developments over the course of the year,” the memo says.
Outside of Congress, the caucus also pointed out that Biden issued a mass marijuana pardon in October and directed an administrative review into the federal scheduling of cannabis.
“As we transition to the 118th Congress, we must heed the calls of the American public and take bold action to end the failed war on drugs once and for all,” the lawmakers said.
The memo ends with a list of states that have legalized marijuana for medical and adult-use—the vast majority of states while cannabis remains strictly prohibited under federal law.
“While the work continues on many cannabis policy priorities, including the SAFE Banking Act, we are resolved to keep up the fight in the new Congress,” Blumenauer said. “With 37 states with medical cannabis programs and 21 states with legal adult-use marijuana in some capacity, nearly half of the U.S. population now live in jurisdictions with some form of legalized adult-use marijuana. Congress must catch up with the majority of Americans who support ending the failed and discriminatory federal prohibition.”
Read the Congressional Cannabis Caucus memo on 2022 reform accomplishments below:
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.