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Congressional Cannabis Bills: Pending but Contentious

Regulations legalizing cannabis continue to be proposed at the federal level – with the operative word being proposed. Within the last couple months, a number of bills have been introduced in or passed by the Senate or House of Representatives. However, bills like these tend to languish or completely fall by the wayside once they are passed across the hall to each other. Not only are the Senate and House not agreeing on the foundation of a law, they are introducing competing bills making each that much less likely to be passed through Congress to make it to the desk of the President and become law.

Of the two general cannabis legalization bills pending or in development in Congress,  H.R.3617 – Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (The MORE Act) is the furthest along having been passed by the House on April 1, 2022, with a vote of 220-204, primarily supported by Democrats. The MORE Act would decriminalize the possession and use of marijuana, removing it from the DEA list of controlled substances; eliminating criminal penalties for growing, possession, or distribution; and expunging some prior convictions. It also includes funding for social equity and community reinvestment programs, deals with taxation, and disallows federal funding discrimination against individuals or small businesses related to cannabis. The bill is not expected to get much further along in passage, however, both due to the Senate’s own developing bill and the fact that the House passed a very similar bill in 2020 that never got to a vote in the Senate.

The Senate version, Cannabis Administration & Opportunity Act was first released last year as a draft plan for feedback. It was brought up again earlier this year with the plan to introduce it in April. That has, however, been pushed back with the senators planning to introduce the legislation before the Congressional recess in August. The bill is said to remove “cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances” and “help repair our criminal justice system, ensure restorative justice, protect public health, and implement responsible taxes and regulations,” among other measures. But with Republicans – many of whom are opposed to legalization – making up half the Senate, it may be difficult to get the bill passed. Not only does having two opposing bills make Congressional passage more difficult, but the House bill and Senate proposal have some significant differences, including the rate of excise tax to be imposed, with the Senate version similar to that imposed on alcohol and tobacco.

In addition to these major bills, there are a few others that have passed one side of Congress and are pending on the other:

  1. The SAFE Banking Act, which was passed by the House and received in the Senate last April. It includes House-passed legislation authorizing banks to provide services to legitimate cannabis businesses. 
  2. Two research bills: H.R.5657 – Medical Marijuana Research Act, passed/agreed to in House, received in the Senate on April 5.  S.253 – Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act, passed/agreed to in Senate. Received in the House on March 28 and “held at the desk.”

As is evident by a number of these bills pending passage on one side of Congress or the other, the competing bills coming from the two sides seem to be making the potential of a federal law coming out any time soon simply wishful thinking. Even if one were to finally make it all the way through Congress, it would then need to be signed by the President. While a veto from the President can be overridden by Congress, it takes at least two-thirds of each body voting in its favor to do so. Additionally, we don’t see the MORE Act as having much chance of even making it to the President since the House passed a very similar bill in 2020 that never got to a vote in the Senate.

As a side note, in follow-up to our previous article on Delta-8 THC:

  1. FDA issued its first warning letters to five companies for selling products labeled as containing delta-8 THC in ways that violate the FD&C Act. Stating that “There are no FDA-approved drugs containing delta-8 THC,” FDA cited the companies for illegal marketing of unapproved delta-8 THC products by companies as unapproved treatments for various medical conditions or for other therapeutic uses. The letters also cite violations related to drug misbranding (e.g., the products lack adequate directions for use) and the addition of delta-8 THC in foods.
  2. CBD Thinker has published a map of the state-by-state legality of delta-8 THC. Although it is shown to be legal in 32 states, the accompanying state detail shows that care must be taken in interpretation and staying updated, as bills are currently proposed to change the laws in some states, and “laws are often confusing, contradictory, unequally enforced, and subject to change.”

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