After working on cannabis reform for decades, we hit another critical threshold: The House passed the comprehensive MORE Act, which decriminalizes cannabis at the federal level and provides restorative justice for communities that have suffered from the disproportionate and deliberate enforcement of cannabis prohibitions. My Medical Marijuana Research Act bill also passed in the House.
Comprehensive marijuana reform passed in the last Congress, but it had no chance in the Senate. Reform under Sen. Mitch McConnell‘s Republican control was doomed to fail. This year we send the legislation to a Senate where it has a real chance of sparking action. Currently the Senate is led by Sens. Chuck Schumer, Cory Booker and Ron Wyden, all of whom are committed to ending the failed war on drugs.
Make no mistake, the reason we are at this moment and poised to end the tragic, unfair and misguided prohibition on cannabis is because the people got there first. Thirty-eight states have enacted medical marijuana and 18 states have determined that adult use should be legal. In total, 98% of the population has access to some form of legalized cannabis because at the state level the fact that more than two-thirds of the public favor full legalization matters. While the federal government isn’t there yet, that too is changing.
The changed reality is on most vivid display in the House, where 321 bipartisan supporters voted for the SAFE Banking Act, which would finally grant state legal cannabis programs access to banking services. This has passed the House in one form or another on 10 occasions. Under the federal prohibition on cannabis, banks and credit unions are currently prohibited from serving cannabis businesses, even with financial products as simple as savings accounts or payroll checks. The industry’s access to banking will be a huge step toward protecting them from being a target of robbery from coast to coast because people — often teenagers — recognize they have unbanked cash. This will also be a huge step for struggling dispensaries run by people of color, women or those in low-income communities who can’t afford the extra cost of security or the cost of losing their cash and product to thugs on a routine basis.
Most exciting is the realization that the failed war on drugs has largely been waged against people of color and low-income neighborhoods. They have paid the price for this heavy handed and failed prohibition. The Senate must now put these pieces together by passing the banking, comprehensive reform and research bills.
Research should be the easiest lift having passed both chambers and providing the key to preventing impaired people in the workplace. Currently we don’t have a good test for marijuana impairment. Thousands of people every week fail drug tests when they are not impaired, but we don’t have a test to prove it. One of the simplest and most direct impacts of ending the federal government stranglehold on research is to finally have a test that doesn’t fail workers and employers. This will enable us to fill critical jobs in the supply chain.
My Medical Marijuana Research bill will end the practice of outsourcing our research programs to Israel, the United Kingdom or Canada. It will make it easier for U.S. researchers to apply and be approved to study marijuana and set timelines for federal agencies to act on their applications. It also expands the potency and variety of marijuana that researchers can access and allows more producers to apply as research growers of marijuana. Removing barriers to medical cannabis research will ensure that patients, clinicians, and consumers can fully understand the benefits and risks of cannabis without federal interference.
Having fought this battle for decades, I am pleased that the House of Representatives has done its job and set the table for success in the Senate and ultimately for the American people.