After finally introducing the comprehensive Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) in the U.S. Senate last month, last week Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) softened his prior position on a separate, narrower cannabis banking bill when he said that he would now consider the banking bill with modifications. As we previously reported, the SAFE Banking Act would allow cannabis businesses to access the federal banking system and service providers to the cannabis industry such as attorneys, accountants, bankers and landlords would be permitted to accept payment from cannabis businesses without the risk of violating federal law. SAFE Banking has passed the House of Representatives seven times in recent years but so far has not been taken up in the Senate.
Since the introduction of the CAOA last month, which would not only permit cannabis companies to access the banking system but would legalize and decriminalize recreational cannabis with an eye toward supporting communities that have been most impacted by the war on drugs, Sens. Booker and Schumer (D-N.Y.) have said they would be willing to consider more incremental cannabis reform such as SAFE Banking with added equity provisions. Many are referring to the as-yet proposed bill as “SAFE Banking Plus,” which would ensure equitable access to financial services for minority-owned cannabis businesses and require financial institutions to prove compliance with anti-discrimination laws, among other things.
Schumer and Booker have been meeting with other lawmakers to work on a compromise bill, and Booker said a proposal might come after the November elections and before the new Congress starts in January.
More than a year after introducing a first draft, U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) finally introduced their proposed marijuana legislation, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) on Thursday, July 21.
The CAOA is a comprehensive bill that would not only permit cannabis companies to access the banking system but would legalize and decriminalize recreational cannabis with an eye toward supporting communities that have been most impacted by the war on drugs. The CAOA also provides for cannabis industry workers’ rights, a federal responsibility to set an impaired driving standard, expungements of criminal records and penalties for possessing or distributing large quantities of marijuana without a federal permit. It would also create a new federal definition for hemp that would increase the permissible THC by dry weight to 0.7 percent from the current 0.3 percent, and the definition would include all THC isomers, not just delta-9 THC. Other features of the bill include grant programs for small business owners hoping to enter the industry who come from communities that were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, increased funding for law enforcement for illegal cultivation, and cannabis marketing restrictions.
Under the proposal, the Drug Enforcement Administration would no longer have jurisdiction over cannabis and would be regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) within the Treasury Department. The bill proposes a 5% to 12.5% excise tax for small and mid-sized cannabis producers. It would charge an initial tax of 10% on larger cannabis businesses and gradually increase it to 25%.
The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism chaired by Booker scheduled a hearing for Tuesday, July 26 titled, “Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms.”
While the bill is unlikely to garner the required 60 votes to pass in the Senate, many see it as a first step toward opening the cannabis debate on Capitol Hill and passing incremental reform that could finally end the federal prohibition on cannabis.
As we have previously reported, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation multiple times in the past few years that would decriminalize cannabis and allow cannabis businesses to access the federal banking system. However, none of those measures have yet made it to the Senate floor.
This week, the U.S. Conference of Mayors – which represents the 1,400 U.S. cities with populations of 30,000 or more – passed a resolution urging Congress to pass the SAFE Banking Act of 2021, the MORE Act and the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), which has yet to be formally introduced.
The House of Representatives has passed both the bipartisan SAFE Banking Act and the MORE Act at least six times in recent years but the Senate has yet to take these bills to a vote. Per the resolution, the SAFE Banking Act would “provide financial security for cannabis dispensaries and related companies and enhance public safety” while the MORE Act and/or the CAOA would “legaliz[e] the medicinal use of cannabis and the adult use of recreational cannabis.” Continue reading “U.S. Mayors Call on Congress to Pass Cannabis Reform”
Duane Morris partner Paul Josephson was featured in this article published in New Jersey Super Lawyers magazine.
Josephson came to cannabis law after learning state contracts and licensing skills from mentor Clive Cummis, who died in 2010.
Thanks to Cummis’ deep infrastructure work, Josephson spent the ’90s as outside counsel for the New Jersey Turnpike. Then like Cummis, Josephson got into political law, and has spent the last two decades representing gubernatorial campaigns. And when Gov. Phil Murphy pushed legalizing weed, Josephson says he was already in the right place at the right time.
To read the full text of this article, please visit the New Jersey Super Lawyers website.
For the first time ever, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote this month on legislation that if enacted would legalize marijuana and cannabis at the federal level, by removing them from the Controlled Substances Act and eliminate some cannabis criminal records.
The MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 – H.R. 3884) would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level by removing it from the list of scheduled substances under the federal Controlled Substances Act, and would further eliminate criminal penalties for an individual who manufactures, distributes, or possesses marijuana. While the bill represents a first step toward legalizing cannabis, states would need to adopt similar measures to fully decriminalize its use – currently, 11 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for adult recreational use, and 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis.
The bill also makes other changes, including:
- Replaces statutory references to marijuana and marihuana with cannabis,
- Requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to regularly publish demographic data on cannabis business owners and employees,
- Establishes a trust fund to support various programs and services for individuals and businesses in communities impacted by the war on drugs,
- Imposes a 5% tax on cannabis products and requires revenues to be deposited into the trust fund,
- Makes Small Business Administration loans and services available to entities that are cannabis-related legitimate businesses or service providers,
- Prohibits the denial of federal public benefits to a person on the basis of certain cannabis-related conduct or convictions,
- Prohibits the denial of benefits and protections under immigration laws on the basis of a cannabis-related event (e.g., conduct or a conviction), and
- Establishes a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses.
The bill, which is expected to be brought to the floor for a vote and pass sometime this month, was originally introduced last year by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. and approved by the House Judiciary Committee in November. While a counterpart bill (S.2227) has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) – the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee – its passage in the chamber is unlikely as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has declined to endorse the bill, making its chances of successfully moving through committee and to the Senate floor for a vote virtually impossible. Without action in the Senate, the bill will die this Congress. However, proponents of cannabis legalization – as well as civil rights and civil liberties organizations, and criminal justice reform advocates – are still hailing the House vote as historic, and an important first step toward generating the momentum and support needed to favorably position the measure for future congressional consideration.
Prospects for the successful consideration and approval of the measure by the next Congress will likely hinge on the outcome of the November election.
Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, has proposed rescheduling cannabis as a schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts. Biden has expressed support for decriminalization of marijuana, expungement of prior cannabis use convictions, and legalizing cannabis use for medical purposes – but wants to leave decisions regarding adult recreational use to the individual states. If elected, Biden and Harris would likely seek to decriminalize cannabis but stop short of advocating for federal adult use legalization, allowing the individual states to decide.
Duane Morris partner Neville Bilimoria provided an update on Illinois cannabis legislation during the “Cannabis 204: The Roundup of State Cannabis Legislation” webinar.
The full video replay of the webinar is also available.