Published April 28, 2023
By Kyle Jaeger
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The Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives has agreed to hold a committee debate and vote on a bill to federally legalize marijuana, the GOP congresswoman who is sponsoring the legislation says.
As one condition of her support for leadership’s unrelated proposal to raise the debt ceiling and cut various federal programs, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) secured a committee markup of the States Reform Act (SRA) that she filed last session, her office told Marijuana Moment on Thursday.
That bill, which has not yet been refiled for the new Congress, would end federal marijuana prohibition while taking specific steps to ensure that businesses in existing state markets can continue to operate unencumbered by changing federal rules.
Mace’s legislation was one of several cannabis reform proposals that were considered during a House Oversight subcommittee hearing last year, but it did not ultimately receive a vote.
With Republicans now in control of the House, the prospects of legalization advancing this Congress have dimmed significantly—but the congresswoman says she has now secured a commitment to action from Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who has struggled to convince his caucus to support the debt ceiling proposal that Mace initially opposed before the two reached a compromise on cannabis and several of her other legislative priorities.
William Hampson, press secretary for the congresswoman, told Marijuana Moment that the deal is a “big win for Rep. Mace and supporters of the SRA and we’re excited to have the Speaker working with us on this.”
As introduced last session, the bill contained provisions meant to appeal to both sides of the aisle.
It incorporated certain equity provisions such as expungements for people with non-violent cannabis convictions and called for an excise tax on marijuana, revenue from which would support community reinvestment, law enforcement and Small Business Administration (SBA) activities.
The legislation was primarily aimed at having the federal government treat cannabis in a similar manner to alcohol, while removing the marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and providing retroactive effects for people previously punished over the plant.
It called for expungements of prior federal cannabis convictions within one year of enactment.
Again, Mace’s SRA hasn’t been refiled for the 118th Congress yet, so it’s possible that the language and provisions may be revised. Mace’s spokesperson said that “firm details” on the filing and prospective committee markup are “still being hammered out.”
The New York Times earlier noted the cannabis deal between Mace and McCarthy, quoting the congresswoman touting her apparently successful efforts to secure commitments on “weed, women and guns” and saying the two had a “very productive” conversation. Mace said she felt “heard by the speaker.”
She also reportedly secured agreements to advance separate legislation on access to reproductive health and childcare services and to hold a floor vote on a bill concerning active shooter alerts.
Marijuana Moment reached out to the speaker’s office to confirm Mace’s description of their agreement, but no response was received by time of publication. Even if McCarthy does follow through on the idea of holding a committee vote on Mace’s marijuana bill, it’s not clear if it would then advance to floor consideration, which is apparently not part of the deal.
While McCarthy has backed modest reforms such as cannabis banking legislation, he has voted against legalization bills and amendments to protect businesses abiding by state laws from federal prosecution.
As such, a commitment from McCarthy to hold a markup of the bill is especially notable given his opposition to broader reform—a position that advocates and stakeholders have generally interpreted to mean that proposals to end federal cannabis prohibition wouldn’t advance under the GOP House.
Instead, lawmakers in both chambers have put their focus on more incremental marijuana proposals, including a bill to protect banks that work with cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators that was filed by bipartisan members of both chambers on Wednesday.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) did say that he would be refiling a legalization bill in his chamber, but the general expectation is that it will meet the same fate that it did last year and fail to advance given the steep 60-vote threshold needed to clear the body.
Schumer also said that he was “disappointed” that a so-called SAFE Plus package of marijuana banking and expungements legislation he worked on last year wasn’t enacted, saying “we came close,” but “we ran into opposition in the last minute.” He said lawmakers will continue to “work in a bipartisan way” to get the job done.
The majority leader has been holding meetings with Democratic and Republican members in the early months of the new Congress to discuss cannabis reform proposals that might have bipartisan buy-in this year.
But the idea of passing modest, bipartisan marijuana legalization came into serious question on Wednesday after Senate Republicans blocked a procedural vote to bring a bill to the floor that would have simply promoted research into the medical potential of cannabis for military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain.
For his part, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said recently that lawmakers are working to “resurrect” the cannabis reform package, acknowledging that failure to advance a banking fix for the industry “literally means that hundreds of businesses go out of business.
Blumenauer, who filed a bill to allow marijuana businesses to take federal tax deductions last week, said at a recent press briefing that thinks it’s important that advocates and lawmakers align on any incremental proposals to end the drug war, warning against an “all-or-nothing” mentality.
Also on the House side, bipartisan lawmakers filed a bill on Thursday that would provide a safe harbor to insurance companies that work with state-legal cannabis businesses.
Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) introduced legislation last week to protect the Second Amendment rights of people who use marijuana in legal states, allowing them to purchase and possess firearms that they’re currently prohibited from having under federal law.
Reps. Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) have filed a bill to incentive state and local marijuana expungements with a federal grant program.
Earlier this month, Joyce and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) filed a measure designed to prepare the federal government for marijuana legalization, directing the attorney general to form a commission to study and make recommendations about regulating cannabis in a way similar to alcohol.