The top House Democrat and a Republican lawmaker have refiled a bill to lay the groundwork for federal marijuana legalization.
Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH) and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) introduced the Preparing Regulators Effectively for a Post-Prohibition Adult-Use Regulated Environment Act (PREPARE) Act on Thursday.
The incremental reform would direct the attorney general to create a commission charged with making recommendations on a regulatory system for cannabis that models what’s currently in place for alcohol.
“With nearly every state adopting its own set of cannabis reforms, an end to federal cannabis prohibition is inevitable,” Joyce, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said in a press release.
“Now is the time for the federal government to respect the will of our constituents and begin the conversation on fair and effective cannabis regulation,” he said. “The PREPARE Act will give lawmakers a bipartisan platform to legislate not only a fair and responsible end to prohibition but also a safer future for our communities.”
The prospects of comprehensive marijuana legalization advancing in the Republican-controlled House this session are questionable, but certain members have expressed confidence that modest reform could be achievable on a bipartisan basis. The PREPARE Act could represent an area of agreement to that end.
“Americans across the political spectrum recognize that now is the time for cannabis reform, and the federal government should be ready to embrace and lead this change,” Jeffries said. “Since the failed war on drugs began over 50 years ago, the prohibition of marijuana has ruined lives, families and communities—particularly communities of color.”
“The PREPARE Act is one of the bipartisan solutions that will lay the groundwork to finally right these wrongs in a way that advances public safety and boosts our economy,” he said. “I am grateful to Congressman Joyce for reintroducing this important bill and his leadership to help the federal government be ready for the inevitable end to cannabis prohibition.”
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While legalization legislation was introduced last Congress, with Democrats in control of both chambers plus the White House, they did not advance on the Senate side, with leadership acknowledging the challenge of meeting a 60-vote threshold with a narrow majority.
Advocates are also closely following for developments on a package of incremental reforms that’s expected to contain marijuana banking and expungements legislation. Efforts to push that through last session similarly stalled out.
The PREPARE Act, meanwhile, is mostly identical to the version the lawmakers filed last Congress, with some minor changes to the commission’s responsibilities and legislative appointments.
Here’s what the bill would accomplish:
Require the attorney general to establish a “Commission on the Federal Regulation of Cannabis” within 30 days of the bill’s enactment.
The commission would be responsible for studying federal and state regulatory models for alcohol and make recommendations about how they could inform marijuana regulations.
Among other things, the commission’s report must look at the impact of marijuana criminalization, particularly as it concerns minority, low-income and veteran communities.
The panel would also examine the “lack of consistent regulations for cannabis product safety, use and labeling requirements,” including those related to youth safety, as well as the “lack of guidance for cannabis crop production, sale, intrastate, interstate, and international trade.“
It would also need to make recommendations on how to remedy cannabis-related banking and research barriers as well as address measures to ensure the “successful coexistence of individual hemp and cannabis industries, including prevention of cross pollination of cannabis and hemp products.”
Members would further be mandated to study and make recommendations on “efficient cannabis revenue reporting and collecting, including efficient and tenable federal revenue frameworks.”
The panel would be required to issue a report to Congress within 12 months.
The bill was revised for the new Congress to make it so the commission would also have to look at “requirements to protect youth and reduce harms to youth” as part of its directive to assess the lack of consistent safety standards in marijuana regulations.
Another revision requires the House minority leader to appoint a commission member who is an “expert in the history of cannabis criminalization and the impact of criminalization on various communities, particularly minorities, medical patients, and veterans.”
Previously, the minority leader was tasked with appointing someone who was “medically licensed with substantial knowledge and demonstrated research into cannabis use and medical treatments.” That would instead be the majority leader’s responsibility under the amended bill, whereas the previous version would have had the majority leader appoint a medical cannabis patient or advocate, a role that is no longer contemplated under the new bill.
The commission would also include representatives of:
- Department of Health and Human Services
- Department of Justice
- Department of Agriculture
- Department of Veterans Affairs
- Department of Interior
- Department of Education
- Department of Labor
- Department of Commerce
- National Institutes of Health
- Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau
- Food and Drug Administration
- Internal Revenue Service
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration
- National Institute of Standards and Technology
- Small Business Administration
- U.S. Trade Representative
It would also include a person formerly incarcerated for a non-violent cannabis use or possession crime, a substance use disorder prevention expert, a representative from a trade organization or nonprofit representing highly regulated adult goods and consumer package goods and two people who have worked to develop state-level regulatory systems.
Some of the appointments would be made by the attorney general, and others would come from congressional leaders. The bill also contains a stipulation that, “if after the commission is appointed there is a partisan imbalance of commission members, the congressional leaders of the political party with fewer members on the commission shall jointly name additional members to create partisan parity on the commission.”
“The PREPARE Act would ensure that Congress thoughtfully approaches regulating the rapidly growing legal consumer marketplaces at a time when a majority of Americans live in a state that has legalized adult-use cannabis,” Justin Strekal, founder of the BOWL PAC, said.
“With Congressional precedent to pass a bill to end prohibition and expunge prior marijuana charges, the biggest remaining unknown is how to properly and efficiently address labeling, advertising, public health concerns, and other post-prohibition regulatory aspects that have yet to be approached in a bipartisan way and this bill can be the vehicle to do just that,” he said.
(Disclosure: Strekal supports Marijuana Moment’s work through a monthly pledge on Patreon.)
Attorney General Merrick Garland, for his part, has repeatedly said that he doesn’t feel that intervening in states that have legalized cannabis is an appropriate use of Justice Department resources.
He said last month that the federal government is “still working on a marijuana policy” amid an ongoing administrative review into cannabis scheduling that President Joe Biden directed late last year.
On the Senate side, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and colleagues have held early meetings with bipartisan members this session after failing to advance the so-called SAFE Plus package last year.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said earlier this week that he believes marijuana “compromise legislation” could be enacted along bipartisan lines this session.
Read the text of the PREPARE Act below:
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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
Image element courtesy of Tim Evanson.