What’s The Status of Federal Cannabis Legalization?

At this point, people have written and said so much about federal cannabis legalization, including tons of coverage of bills introduced into the U.S. Congress, that it’s tough to keep track of where things stand without a scorecard.

The following gives a brief overview of the three main proposals currently under consideration in Congress. Keep in mind this does not include state-level cannabis legalization efforts. Currently, 19 states have legalized adult use marijuana, and just about every state legalizes medical marijuana for at least some conditions and diseases.

Additionally, voters in Missouri, South Dakota and Maryland will vote on adult-use legalization in November 2022. The vote in Maryland comes after a legalization bill failed to pass through the state legislature.

The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act

In the summer of 2022, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden and Sen. Cory Booker – all Democrats – filed the long-awaited federal cannabis legalization bill called the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.

The act decriminalizes cannabis at the federal level, removing marijuana from the list of Schedule I illegal drugs. It also empowers states to create their own cannabis laws, and puts a priority on restorative measures and economic justice for minority communities hit the hardest by the War on Drugs.

Most observers give the bill a very slim chance of passing the Senate in 2022. The situation may change, tipping the scales one way or another, after the November 2022 election.

The SAFE Banking Act

This has become the focus for many practical-minded congressional members who believe Schumer’s bill doesn’t stand much of a chance. The SAFE Banking Act allows FDIC-insured banks to extend financial services to those in the cannabis industry without worrying about violating federal law. In the current situation, many cannabis retailers are forced to operate a cash-only business, which increases security risks and makes bookkeeping more complicated.

However, the fate of the SAFE Banking Act may also depend on the outcome of the November election. A Republican takeover of the Senate could radically change the agenda when it comes to cannabis.

Amendment to the Congressional Spending Bill

This is the least exciting of all the proposals, which means it very well may stand the best chance of passage. An amendment submitted by Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California, and Dave Joyce, a Republican from Ohio, would make a change in the Congressional Spending Bill rider.

That rider currently prohibits the Department of Justice from spending federal funds to prosecute any activity by a business that complies with state medical cannabis laws. The amendment would extend that prohibition to adult use cannabis laws. The U.S House of Representatives is expected to vote on the amendment in mid-September.

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