The US Senate will soon debate over a bill that would legalize and regulate cannabis on a federal level.
The “Substance Regulation and Safety Act,” introduced last Thursday by Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, effectively making the plant completely legal. The bill also gives several federal agencies one year to establish new rules and regulations governing how marijuana could be grown, used, or sold.
The bill's short title only suggests that it would “decriminalize and reschedule cannabis,” but the full text of the bill actually calls for descheduling cannabis – completely removing it from the federal list of prohibited substances. This descheduling would also be retroactive, so it would also apply to anyone who has ever been arrested for a federal cannabis crime. The proposal would also limit pot sales to adults aged 21 or older.
The measure does not specifically create a national adult-use cannabis market, but it would make life easier for states that have already legalized recreational or medical pot. Not only would state-legal cannabis businesses be allowed to operate without fear of federal interference, they would freely be able to open bank accounts, accept loans, and otherwise take advantage of all the opportunities afforded to federally-legal businesses.
Smith's bill would also direct federal agencies to develop pot regulations that mirror the government's current tobacco rules. Specifically, the bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to “regulate cannabis products in the same manner, and to the same extent,” that it does with tobacco products, according to Marijuana Moment. Under these rules, all cannabis goods would be subject to the same labeling and advertising restrictions that currently apply to tobacco products.
The bill includes a number of regulations focusing on public safety. The Department of Agriculture would be directed to create a set of quality control standards for cannabis products that would apply to the entire country. The Department of Transportation would be tasked with developing new methods to crack down on stoned drivers, and Customs and Border Protection officials would need to design regulations for safely allowing cannabis imports and exports.
HHS would also be directed to create a “national strategy to prevent youth use and abuse of cannabis, with specific attention to youth vaping of cannabis products.” The agency would also be required to “consult with civil rights stakeholders” to ensure that its new policies are not “likely to have racially disparate impacts.”
Overall, the bill is less progressive than the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, which will come up for a full House vote next month. The MORE Act has a greater appeal to cannabis reform advocates, as it includes numerous social justice provisions. But, the narrow focus of Smith's measure might appeal more to the Senate, which has shot down pretty much every cannabis reform bill that has ever been proposed.
Senator Smith only joined Congress two years ago, taking Al Franken’s place after he resigned. But in her short time as a Senator, Smith has already cosponsored several cannabis reform bills and made numerous comments in favor of legalization.
“It’s terrific to see Senator Smith engage so substantively in the cannabis policy reform debate,” said Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, to Marijuana Moment. “We at NORML look forward to propelling many aspects of the new legislation into the broader conversation on the future of federal regulations in regards to a post-prohibition America.”