D.C. Lawmakers Bring Back Cannabis Talks

This week Washington D.C. has brought cannabis back for more discussion. There are two different hearings and both could center around social equity issues that have proven difficult to tackle even at the state level. 

First up, Congressional lawmakers will look to discuss social equity provisions within marijuana legalization at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee – chaired by U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) – at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Decriminalizing Cannabis

 While details are scarce, the hearing – titled “Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms.” – will presumably hash out social equity initiatives in the newly filed Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) before it hits the Senate floor. The hearing announcement came only a day before Booker, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-NY), and Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, (D-OR) filed their comprehensive pot package. HELP Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and HSGAC Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-MI) also co-sponsored the legislation.

 The bill is a revised update to the draft version Schumer unveiled last year, with provisions to remove cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances and empower states to implement their own cannabis laws. And since the draft’s introduction last year, a wide range of constituencies – including lawmakers on both aisles, advocates and stakeholders – have actively provided input to the terms of the package.

“Last September, we shared detailed comments on the public draft of the CAO Act, including our specific concerns about key aspects of the legislation,” said U.S. Cannabis Council CEO Steven Hawkin. “The U.S. Cannabis Council still shares those concerns and believes it is critical to get the details right on America’s transition to legal, fully regulated cannabis. We welcome robust hearings in the coming days that fully consider key concerns around regulation, taxation, equity and responsible use.

 “The detailed policy conversations happening around the CAO Act should not distract us from its historic nature. At the same time, the ambitious and sweeping nature of the bill should not distract Congress from advancing limited yet critical reforms, such as expungement and the SAFE Banking Act, that are immediately within reach.”

 According to Booker, the legislation establishes a federal regulatory framework to protect public health and safety, prioritizes restorative and economic justice to help undo the decades of harm caused by the failed War on Drugs, ends discrimination in the provision of federal benefits based on cannabis use, provides major investments for cannabis research and strengthens worker protections. And by decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level, the CAOA also ensures that state-legal cannabis businesses or those in adjacent industries will no longer be denied access to bank accounts or financial services simply because of their ties to cannabis, the release said.

Examining Hemp

Also in the pipeline this week, members of a House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research will meet on Thursday to further discuss federal hemp regulation in a hearing, titled, “An Examination of the USDA Hemp Production Program.”

The specifics are not clear, though House Agriculture Committee chairman, Rep. David Scott (D-GA) said in February that he believes the next Farm Bill should act beyond the scope of hemp to include social equity provisions related to marijuana itself, such as removing industry barriers for Black entrepreneurs and small operators.

“We’ve got to address this issue,” Scott told Roll Call at the time. “We can no longer hide it.”

Additionally, Marijuana Moment reported that House Appropriations Committee leaders recently released spending legislation for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) calling for multiagency coordination to create guidance on hemp manufacturing. The legislation also recommends that the USDA partners with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to resolve concerns about enforcement actions for hemp that exceeds the 0.3% THC limit during extract processing.

 The Congressional Research Service (CRS) also said in a March report that Congress should address industry concerns about the lack of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations for hemp-derived CBD products in the food supply.

Industry leaders have historically taken the position of supporting social equity in marijuana decriminalization. Here’s what one said in response to the bill introduction:

Mark Lozzi, CEO of Confia said, “We are hopeful about the newly introduced legalization bill, which includes social equity provisions. Until we have a solid system in place through legalization, including non-predatory banking opportunities, we will continue to see distrust of our industry, while compounding the challenges of transparency, regulation, and oversight. Social equity is a crucial part of cannabis legalization, and no business or individual deserves to be left behind.

Adam Jackson

Adam Jackson writes about the cannabis industry for the Green Market Report. He previously covered the Missouri Statehouse for the Columbia Missourian and has written for the Missouri Independent. He most recently covered retail, restaurants and other consumer companies for Bloomberg Business News. You can find him on Twitter at @adam_sjackson and email him at adam.jackson@crain.com.

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