Republicans’ States Reform Act Presents Alternative to Federal Legalization

Congressional Republicans have taken a new approach to changing cannabis law, introducing a bill that will decriminalize marijuana, but not legalize it. The bill also eliminates the legal hazards that face many cannabis-related businesses, such as banks, and sets up a system to regulate cannabis much like alcohol.

Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina introduced the bill, called the States Reform Act. It seeks to remove cannabis from federal Schedule I illegal drug classification while leaving it to states to decide whether to legalize recreational and medical marijuana.

“Today, only three states lack some form of legal cannabis,” ,” Mace said in a statement released after she filed the States Reform Act. “My home state of South Carolina permits CBD, Florida allows medical marijuana, California and others have full recreational use, for example. Every state is different. Cannabis reform at the federal level must take all of this into account. And it’s past time federal law codifies this reality.”

A Different Approach to Federal Marijuana Law

Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level. Cannabis advocates and many Democrats have pushed for full legalization, much like what happened in Canada in 2018. Democrats have filed legislation in Congress to legalize cannabis at the federal level more than once.

But the Republican approach might actually reflect the wishes of President Joe Biden more than the legislation from his own party. Biden has said he favors decriminalization, but stops short of supporting legalization.

The chances of Mace’s bill succeeding in a Democrat-controlled Congress seem “uncertain,” according to Reuters. As Mace filed the bill, it had five co-sponsors, all of them Republicans.

What the Republican Decriminalization Bill Would Do

While the federal government continues to consider cannabis illegal, 18 states have made weed legal for recreational use and 36 have done so for medical use. However, because cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, banks are wary of providing cannabis companies financial services. Many investors also have hesitated to back the cannabis industry.

Mace seeks to end that situation with the States Reform Act. She said the act will encourage banks and investors to support the cannabis industry, making it easier for cannabis businesses – especially small ones – to get access to needed capital.

The act also defers decisions on prohibition and regulations to each state. The bill, which prohibits cannabis use for those under 21, also would expunge the past arrest records for those convicted of non-violent, cannabis-only offenses.

The draft legislation from Senate Democrats, filed earlier this year, calls for full legalization. Other differences in the States Reform Act include:

  • The Republican bill calls for a 3 percent excise tax on cannabis, while the Democrats’ bill  tops out the rate at 25 percent
  • The Republican bill calls for the Department of Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to become the primary regulator for interstate commerce, while the Democrats’ bill out the Food and Drug Administration as the primary agency providing government oversight

Mace said her bill is closer to what the American people want when it comes to marijuana laws at the national level.

“The States Reform Act takes special care to keep Americans and their children safe while ending federal interference with state cannabis laws,” she said in her statement. “Washington needs to provide a framework which allows states to make their own decisions on cannabis moving forward. This bill does that.”

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