2019 was an important year pertaining to the federal legalization of marijuana. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who has been a pioneer supporting it, aspired to end 2019 with full legalization for the current Congress.
Seeing how the Senate was so strongly against the move, broad legalization might’ve been a dream, but considering how this was the most pro-cannabis Congress ever, bridging the gap between the federal laws and the states who’ve Legalized cannabis seemed plausible.
However, in the 116th Congress, one chamber managed to pass one cannabis bill on one issue. The expected overhaul of the cannabis laws was lost amidst impeachment and the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Coronavirus has managed to upset any chances of standalone cannabis legalization that could’ve passed Congress this year.
The Cannabis industry could move slightly forward in the positive direction in these bleak times through attached provisions to must-pass coronavirus aid or appropriations bills.
Even so, Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) believes that the prospect is a very difficult one, and to get direct aid for the cannabis industry seems quite improbable.
“I think between coronavirus and election season, we are in the bottom of the ninth,” said Don Murphy, Marijuana Policy Project’s director of federal policies and a former Republican state lawmaker. “We do not have a whole lot of time for the other stuff.”
The House passed the cannabis banking bill last September. However, the Senate hasn’t budged yet. It stood a chance to see the light of the day having been included in the bigger $3 trillion coronavirus relief package, but the bill was dismissed by the GOP-controlled Senate.
Even if the banking bill is included in the future coronavirus relief package, Correa believes that it will die in the Senate since it has to go through Mr. McConnell, who has repeatedly mentioned that, “I’m not interested in moving any legislation of this sort forward.”
The proposal to make cannabis businesses eligible for Small Business Administration loans and grants gained traction due to coronavirus but wasn’t included in the latest House bill.
According to a Democratic House staffer, legalization of Marijuana, whether the MORE Act or the STATES act, was unlikely to be passed, irrespective of the pandemic.
The MORE Act would legalize cannabis by federal law, thereby erasing marijuana-related criminal records and creating grant programs to help communities affected by the war on drugs. It was expected that the proposal would get a House floor vote this year, after moving out of the House Judiciary Committee in November.
The STATES Act would’ve been able to bring about more comprehensive reform in the Senate, which would allow states to set marijuana policies without the fear of federal punishment.
However, the vice-president of government affairs at Smart Approaches to Marijuana, Van Meter, believes that the possibility of the passage of both the bills seems distant.
Moreover, the MORE act has to pass through six more committees. The House Small Business Committee has waived jurisdiction earlier this year as a way of showing support for legalization. Justin Strekal, political director at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, is making efforts to convince House Committees in doing the same.
On the other hand, Rep. Nydia Velázquez’s (D-N.Y.) proposal that makes the cannabis industry eligible for SBA funding had garnered a lot of attention. The SBA funding was not accessible to the marijuana companies since the federal law considered it illegal. However, advocates and lawmakers are pushing to incorporate it into the coronavirus legislation.
More than 40 members of the House and Senate have called for its inclusion, yet the probability of the acceptance of the proposal seems unlikely since it hasn’t even passed out of the committee.
Nonetheless, the future of marijuana research seems bright since even lawmakers like Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) who are staunchly anti-cannabis support legislation expanding cannabis research.
With bipartisan support, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee voted in favor of two cannabis research bills on March 13. No hearings have been scheduled since Sen Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) spoke up for veterans’ medical research in the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
The DEA has issued proposed rules for marijuana research, which could provide Congress with an impetus to act. But again, it all depends on when Congress resumes its work on non-coronavirus legislation.
Pro-cannabis lawmakers and lobbyists believe that marijuana legislation saw a lot of essential pieces make progress in Congress than ever before. Passage of the SAFE Banking Act in the House, House Judiciary Committee’s vote to advance a bill that can remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, and the first-ever cannabis hearing held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, are all advancements in the direction of broad legislation of cannabis.
“I will look anybody in the eye — even on a Zoom call — and make clear that this is … remarkable progress,” said Blumenauer. He calls 2019 “the most single powerful, successful year we’ve ever had with this issue.”