With several new states having legalized marijuana in 2021—in addition to some modest congressional developments—reform advocates put some wins on the board this year. Now a congressional memo is laying out priorities to build upon those successes for 2022.
Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), longstanding champions of reform, released the memo on behalf of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus that they co-chair. It lists the numerous pieces of marijuana legislation that have been filed on Capitol Hill this session, including some that did advance, and then explains what to watch for next year.
While the lawmakers’ memo—which was shared exclusively with Marijuana Moment ahead of its release—highlights momentum that has developed behind cannabis reform in the House this year, it also notes that the Senate still has a lot of work to do.
“I think the stage is set for [federal legalization] to happen next year,” Blumenauer said during a briefing with reporters on Thursday. “We have Senate leadership—they’re dealing with how to assemble a package. They all want comprehensive reform, and they have made that clear. Once we get that alignment and can move it in the Senate, I think things can happen very quickly.”
In the meantime, arguably the most consequential reforms of 2021 did not take place in Congress. Instead, as the new report acknowledges, it was the record number of states that legalized marijuana for adult use, as well as Alabama legalizing medical cannabis.
“This growing bipartisan momentum for cannabis reform shows Congress is primed for progress in 2022, and we are closer than ever to bringing our cannabis policies and laws in line with the American people,” the memo says. “While much work remains to be done, there have been substantive developments over the course of the year that have set the table for further action.”
Nearly 70% of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, think it’s time for federal cannabis reform. The table is set. Let’s make it happen. https://t.co/mCkvsikVPf
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) December 16, 2021
Lee said in a press release that “it’s time for the federal government to catch up to the rest of the country and start leading on cannabis reform.”
“It’s far past time Congress move to finally get this across the finish line,” she said. “Ending the war on drugs is an issue of racial equity and a moral imperative.”
Blumenauer said “the table is set and the time is right for comprehensive cannabis reform, which will make a huge difference for people around the country.”
“We’ve watched this issue gain more momentum than ever with the American people—almost 70 percent of whom, including a majority of Republicans, want to see federal reform,” he said. Let’s get it done.”
Blumenauer will also be hosting a briefing with reporters on next steps for marijuana reform later on Thursday.
A bill to federally legalize marijuana and promote social equity cleared the House Judiciary Committee. Legislation to protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses passed the House for the fifth time. A bipartisan measure was introduced to incentivize the expungement of prior marijuana records. And lawmakers kept pressure on President Joe Biden to grant relief to people with cannabis convictions.
There’s even a recently filed bill led by Republicans to end federal marijuana prohibition—though Blumenauer said on Thursday that he felt “that’s not going anywhere in the House.”
Unfortunately for advocates, none of these bills have been enacted. And the president has yet to act on their calls for executive clemency. But the memo stresses that this momentum serves as the foundation for reform heading into 2022.
There was one piece of cannabis legislation that was enacted as an amendment to a large-scale infrastructure bill. It recommends that researchers be permitted to access marijuana from dispensaries for study purposes, rather than depend on cannabis grown at the only federally authorized source at the University of Mississippi.
The memo also points to another victory: the exclusion of a spending bill rider prohibiting Washington, D.C. from using its local tax dollars to implement a marijuana market—though the new version of the legislation has not yet been enacted and the blockade remains for now. Still, this is likely to set the stage for implementation legislation to bring cannabis sales aboveground in the nation’s capital.
A slew of veterans-specific marijuana bills were also filed this year. That includes one measure that passed the House Veterans Affairs Committee last month to require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct clinical trials into the therapeutic potential of cannabis for military veterans.
But while lawmakers, advocates and stakeholders put in significant work to achieve these incremental successes, the memo emphasizes that the work isn’t over. And it specifically lists five priorities for marijuana reform next year.
At the top of the list: descheduling marijuana.
“We are getting closer to passing the MORE Act, the most comprehensive cannabis reform bill to be developed and considered by Congress to date, which would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act,” the lawmakers wrote.
Legalization must be coupled with equity, they said. That means enacting policies that provide relief to those caught up in the drug war.
It’s also “imperative that the Biden administration utilize power available to the executive to pardon and commute sentences for individuals with cannabis-related offenses, while Congress continues to work to enact comprehensive sentencing reform,” the memo states.
As more state markets come online, the legislators also said that steps must be taken to ensure that the industry is equitable. Part of that means making sure that people from communities most impacted by prohibition have opportunities and resources to participate in the market.
Another priority: promoting marijuana research.
“We are well positioned to dramatically increase the scope and quality of our cannabis research, which will help inform future federal regulation and help us understand the full breadth of cannabis’ therapeutic benefits, especially for our veterans and those living with chronic conditions, like epilepsy,” the memo says.
Finally, the document emphasizes that the federal government should not be in the business of interfering with state marijuana programs. It specifically stresses non-interference by the Justice Department at least until marijuana banking reform passes the Senate.
“The House of Representatives has worked to enact cannabis reform, to set the stage for comprehensive reform. We will work with the Senate on a parallel strategy,” the memo concludes. “The Congressional Cannabis Caucus has brought together a broad coalition of members from across the country, with all their various policies, who all agree: it’s time for Congress to finally reform federal cannabis policy.”
“As we enter another election year, it’s more important than ever to seize the moment and heed the calls of the American public,” it says. “We are poised to take bold action to end the failed war on drugs once and for all.”
Read the memo on marijuana victories and 2022 priorities below:
Image element courtesy of Tim Evanson.