Three top senators drafting bill to federally legalize marijuana; SAFE banking legislation reintroduced in the 117th Congress
Last update: March 23, 2021
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are working on a comprehensive federal cannabis reform billthat is expected to be filed soon. The senators’ bill will prioritize small businesses and restorative justice in the emerging cannabis industry. Watch below as the three senators discuss federal cannabis policy reform.
Meanwhile, on March 18, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was reintroduced in the House. The bill (H.R. 1996) is sponsored by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and has broad bipartisan support with 109 current cosponsors. SAFE previously passed the House in September 2019 in a 321-103 vote. The Senate version of the banking bill was reintroduced on March 23 and is sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT). It currently has 27 cosponsors.
The SAFE Banking Act would create protections for financial institutions that provide financial services to state-legal cannabis businesses. Passing this legislation would also promote equity in the cannabis industry by offering small and minority-owned businesses access to banks and regulated financial services.
Stay tuned for updates and opportunities to take action as these bills progress!
MPP launches U.S. Cannabis Council with other top cannabis businesses, associations, and advocacy organizations
In early February, the Marijuana Policy Project, along with other top cannabis businesses, associations, and advocacy organizations in the United States, launched the U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC), a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization that strategically aligns and unifies its members’ collective voices to advance cannabis reform.
MPP is proud to be a founding member of the U.S. Cannabis Council, a first-of-its-kind strategic coalition of businesses, associations, and advocacy organizations. The purpose of the USCC is to act as one unified voice advocating for the descheduling and legalization of cannabis. MPP Executive Director Steven Hawkins will serve as the Interim CEO of the USCC, which will focus on securing federal reforms that advance social equity and promote fair, safe, and well-regulated markets nationwide as states continue legalizing cannabis at a rapid rate.
“USCC is a unified voice advocating for the descheduling and legalization of cannabis,” said Hawkins, a leader in civil and human rights. “Legalization at both the state and federal levels must include provisions ensuring social equity and redress for harms caused to communities impacted by cannabis prohibition.”
The alliance aims to raise ethical standards within the industry; achieve restorative justice for communities that have been disproportionately impacted by misguided state and federal cannabis policies; and create a healthy, inclusive, and well-regulated cannabis industry with social, financial and environmental benefits shared by all. It aspires to become a leading resource for cannabis policy in the U.S., impacting policy changes on both the federal and state levels.
House passes federal marijuana decriminalization bill!
The MORE Act is one of the most robust marijuana reform bills ever introduced in the U.S. Congress. If enacted, the MORE Act would end the war on cannabis at the federal level by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act and ending criminal penalties under federal law.
In addition to federally decriminalizing and descheduling marijuana, the MORE Act contains strong social equity provisions with an emphasis on restorative justice for communities most impacted by cannabis prohibition. The bill would require federal courts to expunge prior cannabis-related convictions and provide for resentencing; provide grants and funding to communities most harmed by the war on cannabis; lift barriers to licensing and employment in the cannabis industry; block federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances due to cannabis use; protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis; and allow VA physicians to recommend medical cannabis to veterans. A summary of the bill’s key provisions can be found here.
The MORE Act now heads to the U.S. Senate.
Current marijuana laws in the United States
On the federal level, marijuana remains illegal. The federal government classifies marijuana, along with heroin and cocaine, as a Schedule I drug with a high potential for abuse and little to no medical benefit.
However, 15 U.S. states and the nation’s capital have made marijuana legal for all adults, and a total of 36 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands allow for comprehensive public medical marijuana programs.
Contained within the federal budget are provisions to protect states' rights to responsibly regulate medical marijuana programs. Since December 2014, the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment has prohibited the Justice Department from spending funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. This amendment must be renewed each fiscal year in order to remain in effect and has been included in a series of spending bills.
The U.S. House has voted twice to end the crackdown on medical marijuana, demonstrating bipartisan support for real federal marijuana policy change. Most recently, in December 2020, the House voted in favor of the MORE Act, which would end the federal prohibition of marijuana. There is now more momentum than ever for ending prohibition.
Timeline of marijuana reform in the United States
1850: In the United States, marijuana was sold over the counter and was commonly used as treatment for sundry illnesses including, but not limited to, cholera, alcoholism, opiate addiction, and convulsive disorders.
1936: Every state had passed a law to restrict possession of marijuana, eliminating its availability as an over-the-counter drug.
1937: The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed to prohibit all non-medical use of marijuana in the United States. However, it also limited medical use due to fees and regulatory restrictions that imposed a significant burden on doctors prescribing marijuana. The American Medical Association opposed the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 without success.
1970: On October 27, 1970, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act was enacted. Title II of the act – the Controlled Substances Act – established categories varying from Schedule I (the strictest classification) to Schedule V (the least strict). Marijuana was placed in the Schedule I category, thereby prohibiting its use for any purpose.
1995: MPP was founded in January 1995 and is the largest organization in the U.S. that’s focused solely on ending marijuana prohibition.
1996: California voters approved Proposition 215 to legalize medical marijuana. However, the Clinton administration opined its opposition to the proposition and threatened to revoke the prescription-writing abilities of doctors who recommended or prescribed the drug.
2000: In response to the Clinton administration’s aversion to Proposition 215, a group of physicians challenged this policy as a violation of First Amendment rights, and in September 2000 prevailed in the case Conant v. McCaffrey, which allows physicians to recommend – but not prescribe – medical marijuana.
2005: During the Bush administration, agents were enforcing federal laws against state-operated medical marijuana cultivators and patients. In June 2005, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the federal government’s ability to enforce federal law in states that have legalized medical marijuana in the case Raich v. Gonzales.
2009: In the first term of the Obama administration, Attorney General Eric Holder stated that only medical marijuana providers “who violate both federal and state law” would be targeted for prosecution. Deputy Attorney General David Ogden issued a memorandum with guidelines for federal enforcement while also largely affirming the earlier-stated hands-off approach for state-legal medical marijuana activities.
2011: In response to raids by the federal government and in an attempt to clarify the Obama administration’s stance on medical marijuana, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole issued a memorandum specifically noting that the “Ogden memo” protections applied only to individuals and not commercial operations.
2013: In August 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a second Cole Memo that offers guidance to prosecutors and law enforcement on where to focus marijuana enforcement efforts. These are priorities to prevent distribution of marijuana to minors; to prevent marijuana revenue from funding criminal enterprises, gangs, or cartels; to prevent marijuana from moving out of states where it is legal; to prevent use of state-legal marijuana sales as a cover for illegal activity; to prevent violence and use of firearms in growing or distributing marijuana; to prevent drugged driving or exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use; to prevent growing marijuana on public lands; and to prevent marijuana possession or use on federal property. You can read this memo, which was rescinded by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in January 2018, here.
2014: The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, included in the spending bill, prohibits the Justice Department from spending funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. The amendment has been subsequently included in a series of spending bills.
2019: In November 2019, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee passed the most far-reaching cannabis legalization bill that has ever received a committee vote in Congress (the MORE Act). This was a historic moment in our decades-long campaign to end cannabis prohibition at the federal level.
2020: In December 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act in a 228-164 vote. This vote marked the first time in half a century that a chamber of Congress voted on a bill to end the federal prohibition of marijuana. The MORE Act is one of the most robust marijuana reform bills ever introduced in the U.S. Congress. If enacted, the MORE Act would end the war on cannabis at the federal level by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act and ending criminal penalties under federal law.
Click here to see MPP’s history of accomplishments on the state level.