Democratic Senator John Hickenlooper of Colorado on Thursday introduced legislation designed to prepare the country for national cannabis legalization, laying the groundwork for drafting regulations to govern legal marijuana at the federal level. The bill, the Preparing Regulators Effectively for a Post-Prohibition Adult Use Regulated Environment (PREPARE) Act, directs the U.S. attorney general to develop a regulatory framework to be in place for the eventual federal legalization of cannabis by Congress, which is likely inevitable as the popularity of cannabis policy reform continues to grow.
Hickenlooper was the governor of Colorado when voters legalized recreational marijuana with the passage of Amendment 64 in 2012. A month later, he convened the Amendment 64 Task Force to provide recommendations for the establishment of regulations that set the stage for Colorado’s successful legal cannabis industry. Last month, 10 years after Amendment 64 was approved by Colorado voters, Hickenlooper revealed that he planned to introduce the bipartisan PREPARE Act to create a similar commission at the federal level.
“A decade after Colorado pioneered marijuana legalization, Americans overwhelmingly support the same at the federal level,” Hickenlooper said in a statement from the senator’s office. “This bipartisan, bicameral framework, based on Colorado’s Amendment 64 Task Force, will replicate our success nationally.”
Companion Measure To House Bill
Hickenlooper’s legislation is a companion bill to a House version of the measure sponsored by Representative Dave Joyce, a Republican from Ohio.
“I’m thrilled that the PREPARE Act has been introduced in the Senate, making it not only further bipartisan, but bicameral, and bringing it one step closer to becoming law,” said Joyce. “This legislation gives lawmakers on both sides of the aisle the answers they need to effectively engage on cannabis reform, safely and effectively regulate it, and remedy the harms caused by the failed war on cannabis.”
“With those answers, Congress can develop a much-needed federal regulatory framework that not only respects the unique needs, rights, and laws of each state, but also ensures a responsible end to prohibition and a safer future for our communities,” he continued. “I was proud to lead the introduction of this commonsense bill in the House and thank Senator Hickenlooper for advancing it in the Senate.”
The bill directs the attorney general to establish a “Commission on the Federal Regulation of Cannabis” to advise on the development of a regulatory framework, which would be modeled after existing federal and state regulations for alcohol. The 24-member commission would consist of representatives from relevant government agencies and offices, individuals nominated by Senate and House leadership and individuals nominated by other government agencies.
The legislation requires the plan developed by the commission to account for the unique needs, rights and laws of each state, and directs the commission to present the plan to Congress within one year of enactment of the PREPARE Act. The commission would not have rulemaking authority. The panel’s only role would be to develop proposals and make policy recommendations.
The regulatory framework developed by the commission would be required to include “ways to remedy the disproportionate impact cannabis prohibition has had on minority, low-income and veteran communities; encourage research and training access by medical professionals; encourage economic opportunity for individuals and small businesses; and develop protections for the hemp industry,” according to Hickenlooper’s office.
Growing Support For Cannabis Policy Reform
Hickenlooper’s bill highlights the growing support for cannabis policy reform in the United States. In October, President Joseph Biden announced he would pardon all federal convictions for simple marijuana possession, and last week a new Pew Research poll found that 90% of Americans favor legalizing cannabis in some form.
“President Biden recently—and correctly—declared the federal government’s categorical criminal ban on cannabis a failure and urged executive leadership at the state and federal levels to take concrete steps to bring about rational reform,” Shane Pennington, an attorney with the cannabis and psychedelics law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP, wrote in an email to High Times. “The PREPARE Act seeks to ready the federal government for the far broader reforms, which are now imminent. Undoing decades of inane cannabis laws and regulations will require a coordinated and concerted effort at every level of government and among countless federal agencies. The PREPARE Act would lay the necessary groundwork to ensure that the federal government carries out legalization in a fair, efficient, and effective manner.”
Khadijah Tribble, the CEO of the trade group the US Cannabis Council, said the “Biden administration’s review of cannabis scheduling, midterm ballot measures, and polling on cannabis decriminalization all signal that the end of cannabis prohibition isn’t just inevitable — it’s imminent. The PREPARE Act would help ensure that the federal government has a plan in place to ensure a smooth and responsible transition to legal cannabis.”
“We commend Sen. Hickenlooper and his counterparts in the House for the forethought and attention reflected in the PREPARE Act’s robust legislative framework, which wisely aims to also address the unjust consequences of the War on Drugs by developing recommendations on social equity and policies that create economic opportunity for minority entrepreneurs who want to operate in the legal marketplace,” she continued. “The US Cannabis Council will continue to work with Congress to help the nation get ready for the day legal cannabis is the law of the land.”
The PREPARE ACT is supported by a range of stakeholders and cannabis policy reform advocates including the US Cannabis Council (USCC), the City of Denver, the National Hispanic Cannabis Council, Black Cannabis Equity Initiative, VS Strategies, Vicente Sederberg LLP, Metric, National Cannabis Industry Association, and Better Organizing to Win Legalization.