Cannabis Legalization Bills Filed at the Federal Level

On Tuesday of this week, California Senator Kamala Harris introduced legislation to decriminalize and tax cannabis on a federal level. Although we have a small quibble with the slang used in the bill’s name – something that’s actually addressed in the bill itself – we are totally on board with the effort.

The Proposed Bill

Harris wrote the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, which is co-sponsored in the House by Representative Jerry Nadler and has a lot of big names showing support. The highlights of the bill:

  • Decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level
  • Implementing re-sentencing of prior convictions
  • Preventing federal agencies from using cannabis as a reason to deny access to benefits or citizenship status for immigrants
  • Imposing a 5% federal tax on the sales of cannabis products

Some of the proceeds from that tax would go toward a new Opportunity Trust Fund, which would support grant programs with several aims:

  • Providing job training and legal aid for people affected by cannabis prohibition enforcement
  • Providing loans for small cannabis businesses owned and operated by people who are socially and economically disadvantaged
  • Supporting efforts to reduce barriers to licensing and employment in the federally legal industry

Interestingly, the bill would also require any instances of the words “marijuana” or “marihuana” currently in U.S. Code or regulations to be replaced with “cannabis.” We love that part, but why use “marijuana” in the bill title at all?

It’s Kind of a Big Deal

Legitimate businesses in states that have legalized cannabis have been dealing with federal issues from the beginning. Banking in particular has been a challenge, with big banks refusing to work with cannabis businesses because of the plant’s current Schedule 1 classification. Previous bills introduced got minimal traction, but that’s changed significantly in the last two years, and even more in the last six months.

Looking at this realistically, it’s still anyone’s guess whether the bill will actually pass the session. But the introduction itself is a sign of forward progress. It’s the first time in history that a chairman of the Judiciary has introduced a bill to end federal cannabis criminalization, and that alone is worth celebrating.

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