Pro-marijuana bills introduced to the Congress have a chance to legalise cannabis federally
Pro-cannabis lawmakers in the USA are emerging, signaling to marijuana advocates across the country that there is a strong chance of cannabis legalisation becoming a reality at the Federal level. At the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the third cannabis-focused bill in the 116th Congress. The bill, dubbed as “the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act” intends to do what exactly its title suggests. It also has a symbolic title – H.R. 420 – that perfectly suits this aspirational bill.
Some of the Cannabis Caucus are vowing to focus their attention on reforming the most tangible areas of US drug policies. If America’s 420 bill gets approval, it could make cannabis legal at the federal level.
The bill primarily focuses on moving cannabis under the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives – and away from the Drug Enforcement Agency. It would allow the cultivation, packaging, selling, and importing of cannabis to be regulated with federal permits.
De-scheduling cannabis will allow federal funding and federal approval for cannabis research. It will also allow cannabis businesses to access banking services easily.
Ease banking access for cannabis businesses
One of the priorities of the bill is to allow cannabis businesses to use the nation’s banking system instead of being forced into all-cash businesses.
In April 2018, the U.S. Small Business Administration updated its loan lending rules to ban SBA-backed bank loans to businesses dealing in the cannabis or hemp industries. It is because the federal government still considers cannabis as an illicit drug and prohibits marijuana’s sales and distribution. Even if some banks support cannabis businesses, companies have to face pricier banking fees and extremely strict reporting guidelines, which is discouraging for businesses that sell cannabis products.
On February 6, Congressional Democrats announced the schedule of the first marijuana hearing of the New Congress that would focus on the banking challenges for legal cannabis businesses. Marijuana businesses face difficulties in opening and maintaining bank accounts. This is because financial institutions are afraid of being found guilty of violating federal money laundering and drug laws.
The newly scheduled marijuana hearing that will take place on February 13 is a signal that Democrats intend to ease access to the banking system for marijuana businesses. According to Don Murphy, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, depriving cannabis businesses of basic banking services and forcing them to operate in cash imposes safety risks to these businesses, their employees and to the public. He adds that there is strong support for addressing the cannabis banking problem, and it appears the new Congress will bring in the required change.
Making cannabis available for federal testing
The other measure that has the best chance of becoming law is the proposal to expand federally condoned research on cannabis.
In an era where consumers can freely pick up a specific amount of marijuana as easily as a pack of beer, scientists are still deprived of enough resources and federal approval to research a drug that’s becoming more broadly available to the public each year.
Right now, only one Mississippi-based facility is approved by the federal government to grow their own cannabis for research. Moreover, researchers often mention the inadequate quantity and inferior quality of the facility’s products when compared to the products sold at cannabis dispensaries. Consequently, the scientific community is concerned that as cannabis becomes readily available, there will not be sufficient research to help consumers truly understand the health and medicinal effects of marijuana usage.
Fortunately, America’s 420 Bill is considering federally-accepted cannabis research as one of its top priorities. It would allow long-delayed marijuana research to be fast tracked without coming up against the constraints imposed by the federal law.
The path to legalisation
Even if H.R. 420 fails to gain traction, the Congressional Cannabis Caucus already has a plan to move marijuana legalisation forward in 2019. They recently released a step-by-step plan to end the federal prohibition on marijuana.
Congress is clearly with Americans on marijuana when national support for federal marijuana legalisation is an all-time high, and more and more states are moving toward legalisation. The bills and conversation happening in Congress all point towards a future where cannabis can be studied, grown, used and sold in a similar manner to alcohol, and legalisation on a federal level matches up with advancements made by many American states.