It’s only been three days since the 117th Congress convened its first legislative session, but a Florida Republican has already introduced the first federal cannabis reform bill of 2021.
Rep. Greg Steube just filed a bill to officially move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act. As a Schedule I, weed is lumped in with dangerous drugs that have no accepted medical value, like crack and heroin. In Schedule III, it would be classified as a drug with proven medical use, but some abuse potential, much like oxycodone, ketamine, or codeine.
Steube actually filed this very same bill in 2019, but it failed to advance out of committee. At the time, the lawmaker explained that “as marijuana is legalized for medical and recreational use across the United States, it is important that we study the effects of the substance and the potential impacts it can have on various populations,” Marijuana Moment reports. “By rescheduling marijuana from a schedule I controlled substance to a Schedule III controlled substance, the opportunities for research and study are drastically expanded.”
As far as cannabis reform bills go, Steube's bill is among the most modest. Last month, the House passed the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, a far more comprehensive bill that would completely end cannabis prohibition and allow former pot offenders to clear their records. This bill had no chance of success last year, thanks to former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but under Democratic leadership, the Senate is far more likely to consider this bill.
But even though the Democrats have majority control over the executive and legislative branches, there are still plenty of centrist Democrats who remain opposed to full legalization. President Biden has also indicated that he only supports decriminalization, and could well veto the bill if Congress passed it. If the MORE Act fails to pass, lawmakers may have to consider implementing more modest cannabis reforms, such as Stuebe's new bill.
Although it is far less comprehensive than the MORE Act, this new proposal would still ease several restrictions against cannabis. Schedule I and II drugs are subject to many more restrictions under federal law than drugs classified as Schedule III to V. For example, rescheduling would allow state-legal weed businesses to deduct cannabis-related business expenses from their taxes, which is currently prohibited under federal law.
Most importantly, the new bill would remove many of the restrictions that make it difficult for scientists to access high-quality cannabis for research. Rescheduling cannabis would also create additional protections for federal employees who use medical or adult-use cannabis, and could potentially increase veterans' access to medical pot.
The new bill would do little to stop federal prosecutions against anyone caught selling or using recreational weed, though. Steube's bill is a step in the right direction, but further steps need to be taken to put a final end to prohibition.