Congressional Democrats are targeting next year for a major overhaul of the nation’s cannabis laws.
In a memo sent last week, Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), the co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, urged colleagues to build on the successes of 2021 hailed as a “a transformative year for cannabis reform, in which five new states—New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Virginia, Connecticut—legalized adult-use cannabis, and Alabama became the 37th state to legalize medical cannabis.”
“A wealth of policy ideas targeted at ending cannabis prohibition on the federal level have also been introduced on Capitol Hill,” they wrote in the memo, sent on Thursday of last week. “This growing bipartisan momentum for cannabis reform shows Congress is primed for progress in 2022, and we are closer than ever to bringing our cannabis policies and laws in line with the American people.”
Blumenauer and Lee outlined a series of policy priorities for the party to tackle in 2022, including a bill to legalize pot on the federal level.
The bill, known as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, is one of several marijuana proposals offered up by Democrats that has yet to gain passage on Capitol Hill.
Described by Blumenauer and Lee as “the most comprehensive cannabis reform bill to be developed and considered by Congress to date,” the MORE Act would “decriminalize and deschedule cannabis, to provide for reinvestment in certain persons adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, to provide for expungement of certain cannabis offenses and for other purposes.”
The bill, introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), was most recently reported out of the Judiciary Committee in September, and the memo said that Blumenauer and Lee “are vigorously working to see that it gets a vote in the House soon.”
Blumenauer and Lee also highlighted the SAFE Banking Act, which would eliminate legal barriers that prevent the cannabis industry from accessing certain financial services.
The bill has passed the House of Representatives several times, most recently in April, and the memo from Blumenauer and Lee described it as a way to address “the pressing public safety need caused as result of cannabis businesses being forced to operate in all cash, would allow state and tribal legal cannabis-related businesses to access financial services.”
They noted that “polls show bipartisan public support for rationalizing drug policy is at an all-time high, with Gallup now reporting 68 percent of Americans, and a majority of Republicans, support legalizing marijuana.”
Democrats will be under considerable pressure to get something meaningful done on cannabis reform next year, with the 2022 midterms on the horizon and Republicans in prime position to win back the majority.
The memo from Blumenauer and Lee made it clear that the clock is ticking for a party that appeared eager to embrace legalization after the 2020 election.
As we enter another election year, it’s more important than ever to seize the moment and heed the calls of the American public,” the memo said. “We are poised to take bold action to end the failed War on Drugs once and for all.”
On the other side of the capitol, Senate Democrats appear ready, as well. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in an interview earlier this year the party “will move forward” on legalization, pointing to the wave of pot-related reforms implemented at the state level.
“In 2018, I was the first member of the Democratic leadership to come out in support of ending the federal prohibition. I’m sure you ask, “Well what changed?” Well, my thinking evolved. When a few of the early states—Oregon and Colorado—wanted to legalize, all the opponents talked about the parade of horribles: Crime would go up. Drug use would go up. Everything bad would happen,” Schumer said.