With 2020 elections approaching, it's beginning to look like cannabis laws and legalization could be a hot-button issue. Last week, a hearing entitled “Cannabis Policies for the New Decade” was held by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health. During this legislative hearing, both Republican and Democratic representatives and witnesses from the FDA and DEA discussed cannabis’ health benefits and potential changes to current federal policy.
Currently, cannabis is illegal in any form under federal law, but since enforcement is left primarily to the states and since state cannabis laws vary wildly, it is easy to become confused over what is legal and what is not. Cannabis laws are almost always in a state of flux and have become a major issue for many voters. But before the 2020 elections kick-off, it’s important to review federal cannabis laws that are being considered and how different candidate’s policies stack up.
Here’s a look at five acts in consideration:
Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act
This act removes marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act and eliminates criminal penalties for legal businesses. It also creates a trust fund for women/minority-based business assistance, establishes marketing restrictions to protect children, and provides grants to expunge convictions.
SAFE Banking Act
This bipartisan act, which passed in the House of Representatives in November, eases banking and insurance restrictions for cannabis businesses. It removes the ability of federal banking regulators from penalizing financial institutions for conducting business with a company in the cannabis industry. One of the reasons that cannabis businesses are considered high-risk is because of the substantial amounts of cash that they typically have on hand due to current banking limitations. This act could alleviate this problem and help establish safer environments for the dispensing of cannabis.
This act eliminates regulatory controls and administrative, civil, and criminal penalties under the Controlled Substances Act for marijuana-related conduct and activities that are authorized by state or tribal law, subject to specified exceptions. This act would leave cannabis legalization up to the states and would prevent federal interventions.
Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act
This act decriminalizes cannabis at the federal level and allows for states to regulate as they see fit. This act, which has bipartisan support, would also allow physicians with the Veteran’s Administration to make medical marijuana recommendations in states were cannabis has been legalized and will incentivize states to enact expungement policies for previous cannabis convictions.
Marijuana Justice Act
This act initiates Federal decriminalization of cannabis and the expungement of all federal cannabis possession convictions. This act would also create a $500 million fund for “community reinvestment” for job training in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis arrests.
There are monumental changes being proposed in the world of legal cannabis, but their success and ability to become law is yet to be seen. While most boast bipartisan support, voters may wonder how 2020 candidates plan to address the issue.
The Democratic Front Runners
In contrast with many of his fellow democrats, Biden supports federal decriminalization, rather than full legalization. He is in favor of downgrading cannabis from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug (on par with drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine) under the Controlled Substance Act in to allow for further research to be conducted. While he may not support full legalization, he does support the immediate expungement of cannabis possession convictions and allowing states to enact their own recreational-use laws.
Was the first to announce his support for legalization as a candidate in 2015. He signed in support of the Marijuana Justice Act and has voiced support of multiple bills that aim to legalize.
As a sponsor of the STATES Act and co-sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act, she supports cannabis legalization and has previously said, “we should legalize it nationally.”
Supports legalization and has stated that “the safe, regulated, and legal sale of marijuana is an idea whose time has come for the United States."
The Republican Front Runners
Long held support for legalization, supporter of the STATES Act, and is currently on the Board of Directors for Acreage Holdings, a Marijuana and Cannabis Investment Firm. He has previously said, “I think it’s a states’ rights issue… I think it should be state-by-state. I just don’t think the federal government should mandate one-size-fits-all, either negative or positive.”
Though during his campaign, he was only in support of medical legalization, shortly after being sworn in President Trump announced that he would likely fully support the STATES Act. Since then, he has stated his support for decriminalization with the states deciding on legalization. As federal cannabis policy is becoming a pressing issue for the 2020 elections, some wonder if this may impact his position. With many of his competitors in support of legalization, it’s possible he may lean this way in coming months, or take a harder stance against cannabis legalization at the federal level.
With cannabis legalization receiving bipartisan support, it may only be a matter of time before federal cannabis policy is passed. So far, 33 states (plus the District of Columbia) have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana and another 11 states have legalized adult-use recreational cannabis. While the legislative hearing last week was a positive step toward federal cannabis policy being enacted, only time will tell the future of the cannabis industry in the United States.