Several marijuana-related bills pending in Congress
Last update: January 13, 2020
The 116th Congress went into session in January 2019, and several marijuana reform bills were introduced in both chambers. See below for a listing of legislation we are tracking on the federal level, and stay tuned for information on the progress of these bills and opportunities to take action.
H.R. 3884, S. 2227 – Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019
House Sponsor: Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY); 67 cosponsors
Senate Sponsor: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA); 5 cosponsors
Purpose: This legislation would federally decriminalize and deschedule cannabis, thus allowing states to set their own policies. It also contains strong social equity provisions with an emphasis on restorative justice for communities most impacted by cannabis prohibition.
Action: Urge your U.S. Representative to support the MORE Act on the House floor!
H.R. 1595, S. 1200 – SAFE Banking Act of 2019
House Sponsor: Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO); 206 cosponsors
Senate Sponsor: Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR); 33 cosponsors
Purpose: This legislation would prevent federal regulators from punishing financial institutions for providing services to cannabis-related businesses operating in compliance with state laws.
Action: Urge your U.S. Representative to support the SAFE Banking Act!
S. 1028, H.R. 2093 – Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act
Senate Sponsor: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA); 9 cosponsors
House Sponsor: Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR); 63 cosponsors
Purpose: This legislation would protect states’ rights to enact their own marijuana policies without federal interference.
Action: Urge your members of Congress to support the STATES Act!
H.R. 127 – The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act of 2019
Sponsor: Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN); 13 cosponsors
Purpose: This legislation would permit states to implement medical cannabis programs without federal intervention. It would also allow physicians with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend cannabis to veterans. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is expected to introduce a Senate companion bill.
H.R. 420 – Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act
Sponsor: Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR); 4 cosponsors
Purpose: This legislation would remove cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act. It would also transfer cannabis enforcement authority from the Drug Enforcement Administration to a renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana, Firearms and Explosives.
Attorney General William Barr says he won't go after legal marijuana businesses
On January 4, 2018, the Department of Justice announced that it was abolishing existing protections that prevent federal prosecutors from interfering in states that have decided to legalize marijuana. In doing so, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions indicated that he planned to use the power of the federal government to attack the ability of states to decide their own laws, running roughshod over states’ rights and willfully ignoring the votes of millions of Americans. In every state where marijuana is legal, Americans voted to approve legalization at the ballot box. This was a direct attack on the will of the people.
A majority of Americans support legalization, and the announcement resulted in shock and outrage from both sides of the aisle. Republican Senators like Cory Gardner and Lisa Murkowski both spoke out against Sessions’ decision, and Democrats were unified in their resistance, with Sen. Cory Booker calling it “an attack on our most sacred ideals.” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi stated, “Sessions’ decision bulldozes over the will of the American people and insults the democratic process.” We applaud all members of Congress who spoke out against Sessions’ decision.
With Sessions out, Attorney General William Barr pledged during his Senate confirmation hearing not to "go after" marijuana businesses that are acting in compliance with state laws.
Nonetheless, the only sure way to prevent federal action against legal marijuana in states across the country is for Congress to finally address the glaring contradiction between state and federal law on this issue. Contact your members of Congress today to let them know that the time has come to recognize that states should determine their own marijuana policies. This is the year that we can finally convince Congress to listen to the voters that chose to tax and regulate marijuana, rather than continue with the failed policy of prohibition.
Current marijuana laws in the United States
Eleven U.S. states and the nation’s capital have made marijuana legal for all adults, and a total of 33 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 a 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.
On the federal level, the House has voted twice to end the crackdown on medical marijuana, demonstrating bipartisan support for real federal marijuana policy change.
The president himself recognizes the benefit of these reforms. While on the campaign trail, Donald Trump was asked his view on state marijuana policy reform, and he consistently said it should be a states’ rights decision. There is now more momentum than ever for ending marijuana 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.
Click here to see MPP’s history of accomplishments on the state level.