The most recent push to legalize federally, The President’s views on cannabis, and D.C.’s move to empower cannabis patients
By Kaitlin Domangue
The most recent federal legalization effort
Sen. Chuck Schumer, Ron Wyden, and Cory Booker formally filed the long-awaited federal legalization and social equity bill, The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), on July 21st.
Talks of this bill’s impending release started swirling about a week before it was filed.
It was set to be introduced before Congress’ August recess after Sen. Schumer delayed its original filing in April.
Now that it’s been officially introduced, the bill must move through the legislative process before it becomes law. ⚖️
The CAOA is hundreds of pages long. It’s filled with information; I couldn’t begin to cover it all here, so I’m summarizing it for you.
Here are the major points you need to know about this bill:
- Cannabis must be removed from the Controlled Substances Act within 180 days of the bill passing
- People with low-level federal cannabis convictions will have their records expunged within one year of the CAOA going into effect. Those currently in prison for cannabis will be allowed to petition the courts for relief
- Small to mid-sized cannabis producers would be taxed a 5% excise tax – but this number would slowly increase to 12.5% after five years. Large businesses would start at 10% and increase to a maximum of 25%. (Heavily taxing cannabis producers doesn’t stop after federal legalization, apparently.)
- It would create a regulatory framework, one in which the FDA, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) are heavily involved.
The Department of Transportation would also be responsible for determining a THC-impaired driving standard within three years of the bill becoming law. States would be required to adopt this unless it’s determined that the department is unable to set this standard from a scientific perspective.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would collect data on impaired driving and promote awareness of its dangers.
This bill would, overnight, change everything we know about the cannabis industry.
But, states would still be allowed to opt-in or out of cannabis sales. Cannabis isn’t automatically legal and regulated in every state if the CAOA passes.
They can’t stop the transportation of cannabis products from passing through their jurisdiction, but those caught distributing cannabis in an illegal state can still face federal penalties.
What I’m Thinking 🧠
When I wrote about this before, I focused on the roadway safety aspect of the bill.
I also talked about the state’s right to choose whether or not they adopt a cannabis program, which I wholeheartedly agree with (separation of federal & state powers is a beautiful thing, people).
I didn’t touch much on the FDA, ATF, and TTB’s involvement with cannabis should the CAOA go into effect.
A lot of people take issue with this, but I don’t have much of a problem with these federal agencies being involved.
It’s not because I wholeheartedly trust them (spoiler: I don’t), but because it’s unrealistic to expect federal agencies not to be involved after federal legalization arrives.
Some people say a different agency can oversee the cannabis program so we don’t lump cannabis with alcohol and tobacco – but the federal government barely wants to legalize cannabis, much less categorize it as its own medically-progressive entity.
Thankfully – I don’t predict the CAOA to pass.
Several lawmakers, on both sides of the political fence, don’t agree with the Cannabis Administration Opportunity Act. The votes simply aren’t there.
Additionally, President Joe Biden’s signature is the final step before a bill becomes law and it’s unclear if he’d sign it (see why below) 👇
Does President Biden support cannabis legalization?
If you were anywhere near the cannabis industry after the 2020 election: you remember the excitement.
The cannabis industry was stoked that a new administration was coming in.
Hopes for cannabis legalization were high, as evident by the soaring cannabis stock prices.
And not just for any reason.
President Biden and Vice President Harris were not shy to share their support for cannabis on the campaign trail.
But as we know, no action has been taken and we are more than halfway through 2022.
Biden told voters at a New Hampshire event, “Nobody should be in jail for smoking marijuana.” He’s even expressed support for rescheduling cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II.
And honestly… good for her. 👏
Vice President Kamala Harris, who has vocally supported legalizing cannabis, was actually the sponsor of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act when it was introduced in 2019.
The MORE Act has been deliberated by U.S. lawmakers for several years and has been passed by The House twice. It has yet to pass the Senate.
Since Harris has stepped into her new role as Vice President, she has appeared to flip-flop on her stance – and maybe even before that.
A spokesperson for the President, in 2019, said Biden supports cannabis decriminalization but isn’t going as far as calling for it to be legalized at the federal level.
An anonymous aide from Harris’ team told Bloomberg that the Vice President’s “positions are now the same as Biden’s.”
In 2020, before the new administration was voted in, Harris said:
“We have a commitment to decriminalizing marijuana and expunging the records of people who have been convicted of marijuana offenses. When you look at the awful war on drugs and the disproportionate impact it had on black men and creating criminal records that have deprived people of access to jobs and housing and basic benefits.”
Vice President Harris was also the California Attorney General beginning in 2011, and at least 1,560 people were sent to prison for cannabis-related offenses during her time in the role.
What I’m Thinking 🧠
When I originally wrote about this, I wrote:
“While I can’t say I’ve given up on cannabis legalization, I truly have given it up for the foreseeable future and those have been my feelings for several months.
I’ve honestly given up on nearly every piece of cannabis legislation that isn’t led by citizens. 🤷♀️ We’ve seen the MORE Act, SAFE Banking, and others circulate Congress too many times without resolve.
The current administration has done next to nothing since taking office to indicate that cannabis legislation, of any kind, is a priority for them.
I am not giving up completely. We can’t. I am just giving up on predicting when it might happen or that it will be soon.”
My feelings on this have not changed.
If anything, I’m leaning more into this mindset than ever before. Especially after the recent federal legalization bill.
I will be focusing a lot more on what we can control: which is state legislation.
States like mine (Missouri) have strong medical cannabis programs and are poised to be robust marketplaces.
Federal policy is huge, of course. It impacts everything we do in this business.
But state and local policy can have just as much of an impact on cannabis businesses as federal policy.
So in absence of federal legalization, I will be speaking a lot more about state & local policies and how that impacts the industry as a whole.
D.C. gets rid of doctor’s certifications
Medical cannabis patients no longer need a doctor’s recommendation to get a medical card in D.C.
Self-certification has arrived.
This is exactly the state and local moves I’ll be focusing on in absence of federal policy.
Local changes like this make a dramatic impact on the cannabis industry at large.
Ironically, this change takes place in D.C. – the same place lawmakers fight over federal legalization.
The Medical Marijuana Self-Certification Emergency Amendment Act of 2022 (B24-0886) was passed to work around the “Harris rider”, a rider provision that’s been successfully proposed by Republican Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland every year since 2014.
This rider prevents D.C. from regulating and taxing recreational cannabis.
Medical cannabis has been legal in Washington D.C. since 2011 and D.C. voters said yes to cannabis for personal use in 2014, with the rider preventing the regulation or taxing of it.
B24-0886 is also an effort to work against the illicit market and the gifting trend popping up in D.C.
D.C. business owners are gifting cannabis alongside the purchase of another item to circumnavigate the ban on adult-use cannabis sales.
Unlike a failed D.C. bill in April, B24-0886 doesn’t have enforcement provisions cracking down on cannabis gifting, but it does acknowledge the safety and legal concerns the gray market can bring, including selling to minors.
“This emergency legislation moves only the portion of that prior legislation regarding self-certification. Specifically, it would allow medical marijuana patients 21 years of age and older to self-certify that they are utilizing marijuana for medical purposes. Patients will still be formally registered in the medical marijuana program, issued a patient identification number, and recorded in ABRA’s private and secure ‘Metrc’ track-and-trace system. While not a panacea to the issues facing our legal marijuana market, this emergency legislation provides a small amount of relief by increasing the ability of medical marijuana patients to access the legal and regulated medical market.”
What I’m Thinking 🧠
This is a massive win for D.C. and the industry at large.
Patients now have greater access to medical cannabis and hopefully, other states begin to follow.
It’s easy to focus on federal legalization policy. Especially when bills like the CAOA pop up.
We desperately need federal change.
But local moves like this sometimes have an even greater impact on cannabis programs than federal policy does.
For D.C. patients – the impact is massive.
Medical cannabis is currently not covered under medical insurance because it’s federally illegal, and a doctor’s recommendation to obtain a card can cost hundreds of dollars. This bill eliminates that cost to see a physician.
D.C. is one of the first U.S. jurisdictions, if not the first, to allow patients to self-certify.
In February, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser signed a bill allowing senior citizens to bypass a physician’s recommendation and self-certify, but this privilege now extends to everyone in D.C. over the age of 21.
This is an exciting step for patients in D.C. and the United States as a whole, but I do have concerns about dosing and medication interactions if doctors are out of the picture.
However, there are plenty of resources for patients to access clinical help – like Leaf 411, a free cannabis nurse’s hotline, that can help with medication interactions and proper dosing.