Anyone who is familiar with the cannabis industry has surely come across the contradictions that arise from the legal status of marijuana. Even as states across the U.S. legalize adult-use recreational cannabis, expand medical cannabis protections, and allow for cannabusiness to grow, cannabis users and producers come up against the unbudging federal regulations on cannabis.
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) still classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance – the same category as LSD and cocaine – which makes it difficult to study and hard to regulate or transport. Despite more progressive laws on a local level, the federal regulations provide ample roadblocks to the industry’s development and obstruct access.
For example, travellers at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) are allowed a small amount of cannabis in the airport yet TSA (which is a federal agency) can still stop travellers if they find cannabis. But, changes way be on the way thanks to Democratic senators and presidential hopefuls.
On Tuesday, Senator and presidential hopeful, Kamala Harris, introduced a bill which would encourage minority-owned cannabusiness and undo harsh marijuana drug sentences such as mandatory minimums. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act would be a major step forward for cannabis industry professionals as well as cannabis users.
MORE is set to counteract harsh criminal sentences for marijuana possession during the “War on Drugs” era. During this strict period of law enforcement, 599,282 people were charged with marijuana possession. According to CNN, many 2020 presidential hopefuls view cannabis decriminalization as a civil rights issue. The Drug Policy Alliance reports that almost half of those arrested are black or latinx even though they make up about a third of the population.
In addition to expunging criminal records related to cannabis possession, it would remove marijuana and THC from the Controlled Substances Act and prevent federal agencies from using cannabis as a reason to deny access to benefits or citizenship status for immigrants.
This far-reaching bill also proposes a five percent tax on cannabis products and establish the Cannabis Justice Office under the Department of Justice. This proposed agency seems similar to the Bureau of Cannabis Control which regulates business licenses, retailers and distributors in California.
In addition to providing a means to regulate and control the source and destination of cannabis products, the tax funds would also create the Opportunity Trust Fund. This fund would help provide grants to small, locally-owned cannabusinesses for minorities and help them navigate the process of licensing their businesses. The Opportunity Trust Fund would also provide job training and legal aid for people impacted by cannabis enforcement regulations.
This promising bill still has many legal hurdles to pass but it is a promising step towards decriminalizing and regulating cannabis. As of now, the bill, which was authored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler has support from civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups. Presidential hopefuls Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren were also early supporters of the bill.