Bipartisan House lawmakers have refiled another bill to federally legalize marijuana, while taking steps to preserve existing state cannabis markets.
Sponsored by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), the States Reform Act was first introduced in 2021, serving as an alternative to a Democratic-led legalization proposal that’s cleared the House twice in recent years. At that time, Mace’s bill had only GOP cosponsors.
The text of the new version of the legislation, which has has a handful of both Democrats and Republicans signed on, isn’t available yet, so it’s unclear if there have been meaningful changes. Even more uncertain are its prospects of advancing under the GOP-controlled House, where the speaker position remains vacant after three weeks following the ousting of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) from the leadership role.
As a condition of her vote on a bill to raise the debt ceiling and cut certain federal programs, Mace said that she secured a commitment from the former speaker to hold a committee markup on her cannabis bill—but that never happened. Mace was among the handful of Republican members to boot the speaker this month, citing unfulfilled promises without explicitly noting the marijuana markup pledge.
In any case, the States Reform Act as introduced last session would have ended federal cannabis prohibition, at the same time that it sought to engender bipartisan support by incorporating certain equity provisions such as expungements for people with non-violent cannabis convictions and imposing an excise tax, revenue from which would have supported community reinvestment, law enforcement and Small Business Administration (SBA) activities.
The bill is primarily aimed at having the federal government treat marijuana in a similar manner to alcohol. Cannabis would be removed from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), with retroactive effects for people previously punished.
The bill’s original cosponsorship list has changed since the last version. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) stayed on, but Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, is not listed as a cosponsor this round, nor is the late Rep. Don Young (R-AK) who the Florida congressman replaced on the caucus. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI) was on the last bill, but he lost a primary challenge in 2022.
This time, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) has joined as an original cosponsor, along with two Democrats. Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN), who is expected to challenge President Joe Biden for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination, is signed on, as is Rep. David Trone (D-MD).
Marijuana Moment reached out to Mace and Mast’s offices for comment about why he is not on the bill this time around, but representatives were not immediately available.
During the last Congress, Mace emphasized that she wanted to build bipartisan support for the legislation but at no point did it garner additional cosponsors beyond those who were signed on at its introduction.
Under the legislation as filed last session, federal cannabis convictions would have needed to be expunged within one year. People affiliated with cartels or who have been convicted of driving under the influence would not have been eligible for the relief, however. Mace’s office estimated that about 2,600 people would be released from federal incarceration under the provision.
There would have been a 3 percent federal excise tax on cannabis under the bill. Revenue from federal marijuana taxes would have gone to a newly created Law Enforcement Retraining and Successful Second Chances Fund, and distributed to programs under the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program, the Community Oriented Policing Services Hiring program, a new Successful Second Chances program under the Small Business Administration (SBA), veterans mental health programs, state programs to combat opioid addiction and efforts to prevent youth cannabis use.
The Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)—which would have been renamed the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Cannabis Tax and Trade Bureau—would have been the chief regulator for marijuana with respect to interstate commerce and international trade. The agency would have been tasked with creating a track and trace system for cannabis, and federal officials would be authorized to issue packaging and labelling requirements for products.
The legislation would have grandfathered existing state-licensed cannabis operators into the federal scheme to ensure continued patient access and incentivize participation in the legal market.
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The refiling of the States Reform Act comes about a month after 33 Democratic House lawmakers, led by Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), reintroduced the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act to federally legalize marijuana while promoting equity in the industry.
The comprehensive legalization legislation has passed the House twice in recent sessions—but this marked the first time it was introduced with Republicans in control of the chamber, raising serious questions about whether it will move. The Judiciary Committee, which is the primary panel of jurisdiction, is chaired by anti-cannabis Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who lost his own bid for the speakership.
The reintroduction of both legalization bills also comes amid a federal cannabis scheduling review that Biden directed last year. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has advised the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to move marijuana to Schedule III after completing its scientific review.
While a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report released last month said it was “likely” DEA would follow suit based on precedent, the law enforcement agency does not have to adhere to the HHS recommendation.
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