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Lawyer Up: A Breakdown of the Marijuana-Related Bills Currently in Congressional Purgatory

There are 12 unique bills in Congress that aim to change federal cannabis law. So far, none of the bills have passed, nor have they received consideration on the House or Senate floor.

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Disclaimer: This column is written for educational purposes only. It does not provide specific legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. This column should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state.

As of the end of April, there are 12 unique bills in Congress that aim to change federal law with respect to cannabis. So far, none of the bills have passed, nor have they received consideration on the House or Senate floor.

Nonetheless, we’ve seen growing vocal support for marijuana reform at the federal level. Several congressmen from states that have legalized both medical and recreational use have led the way in forming the bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus. But many others who are not members of this Caucus have introduced reform bills in their own right.

Medical Marijuana

The Compassionate Access Act, H.R. 715, is a bill from 2015 that’s been reintroduced by Rep. H. Morgan Griffith, R-VA. It does several important things. First, it directs the Department of Health and Human Services to make a recommendation to the DEA to transfer marijuana from Schedule I to another Schedule of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Second, it protects the medical use of cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive component in cannabis, by excluding it from the definition of marijuana under the CSA. Lastly, the bill would shift the responsibility for registering marijuana researchers from the DEA and NIDA to an executive branch agency. The hope is that this would encourage more unbiased research of the substance.

The States’ Medical Marijuana Property Rights Act, H.R. 331, revived by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-CA, amends the CSA to address the issue of civil forfeiture resulting from medical marijuana-related conduct. Currently, law enforcement may seize property and assets related to marijuana-related conduct on suspicion of a crime. The government is not required to return the property even if the charges are dropped. This bill would eliminate the government’s ability to seize any real property where the medical marijuana-related conduct is authorized by State law.

Rescheduling Marijuana

H.R. 2020 would limit the application of federal law to the consumption of and commercial activity related to marijuana and marijuana products. It works by moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III of the CSA. Schedule III substances have currently-accepted medical uses and only a moderate-to-low potential for physical dependence. Examples of Schedule III drugs are Vicodin, testosterone, and anabolic steroids. While moving marijuana to another schedule is a step in the right direction, drug policy experts believe that the best remedy is to remove marijuana from the CSA entirely.

Respecting States’ Rights

The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017, H.R. 975, is another reintroduced bill that seeks to amend the CSA. The text of this bill is short and straightforward. It would essentially amend the CSA’s rule on marijuana to exempt any person who is acting in compliance with State law. It applies to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration and delivery of marijuana.

Tax Reform & Access to Banking

The Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act, H.R. 1823 and S. 776, is a bill with bicameral support that has been revived in 2017 after its initial introduction in 2015. It is part of a package of bills proposing sensible taxes on marijuana. If passed, it would amend the IRS code to allow the federal government to tax and regulate marijuana products.

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The Small Business Tax Equity Act, H.R. 1810 and S. 777, is another reintroduced bill from 2015 with bicameral support. This bill would finally put marijuana businesses on equal footing with other small businesses — allowing legal marijuana sellers to deduct marketing and advertising expenses, something that is currently prohibited by Tax Code Section 280E.

The Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act of 2017, H.R. 1824 and S. 780, is a brand new bill that takes on a host of issues. Notably, it addresses the many problems created by the lack of banking services for cannabis businesses. It would prevent federal banking regulators from prohibiting or penalizing FDIC-insured banking institutions for providing financial services to marijuana-related businesses.

What's Next?

The sheer number and variety of bills introduced in Congress this year is cause for hope. Not only are we seeing bills resurrecting the goal to reschedule cannabis and protect access to medical marijuana, we are now seeing greater efforts to address more nuanced problems such as taxation of the plant and access to banking services.

So how can we make sure that these bills receive real and fair consideration this year? You probably already know what I’m going to suggest, but I’ll say it anyway. Call your Representatives! What really gets these bills moving is if more Congressmen and Senators pledge their support as co-sponsors. There are several great websites and apps out there — such as 5 Calls — that make it easy to reach out. Simply call your Rep’s office and ask them to be a co-sponsor for any and all of the marijuana reform bills you support. Our voices are more impactful than we think.

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~ Cannabiz Confidante

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