By Hunter Dublin | August 15, 2022
As the midterm elections near, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) would probably prefer to be able to tout progress on marijuana legalization. But instead, he's currently left with the Senate passing a modest cannabis research bill. As one of the Biden administration's "historic achievements."
In a statement issued on Thursday, the leader praised the Senate's "productive and nonpartisan" work under Democratic rule.
"It's difficult to do even little things in the Senate," he remarked. "Passing important pieces of bipartisan legislation in the Senate's longest equally divided session in history demonstrates Democrats' perseverance and hard work to deliver for the American people."
While the press release emphasizes critical successes such as the Inflation Reduction Act, infrastructure legislation, and help to Ukraine, among other well-known pieces of legislation, it also mentions the cannabis study reform.
In a section of the statement titled "Fighting Back Against Hate, Crime, and Oppression," Schumer mentioned briefly that the "Senate passed legislation to streamline marijuana research," referring to legislation passed by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in April.
Of course, Schumer's own comprehensive legalization measure, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) introduced last month after more than a year of effort, is not on the list.
Even if there was enough time to bring the bill to the floor before the November elections, few believe it has enough support—even among the Democratic caucus—to pass. Lawmakers are increasingly expected to pursue a separate package of more incremental cannabis reforms, such as marijuana banking and federal expungements.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), a key proponent of CAOA, has stated that the so-called "SAFE Banking Plus" measure, which is in the works, will most likely be introduced following the elections during the lame duck session.
The Development of the Cannabis Reform Movement
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats point to the bipartisan marijuana research measure as the most visible example of the cannabis reform movement.
However, that exact legislation has not been put into law. However, there is hope that a significantly amended version launched last month may reach the president's desk in time. According to sources, it already passed the House just days after it was filed, and the Senate is poised to act soon.
If it passes the chamber and reaches Biden, it will be the first piece of independent marijuana reform legislation to become law.
The "Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act" took into account a separate but similar House-passed cannabis research bill. However, as sponsor Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) acknowledged, the revised legislation required "compromise" with the Senate, including the omission of provisions in his original bill allowing scientists to access cannabis from dispensaries for studies.
The proposed law would give the United States Attorney General a 60-day deadline to approve or seek further information from a marijuana research applicant. It would also provide a more efficient route for researchers requesting larger quantities of cannabis.
In addition, the legislation would push the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to research cannabis-derived medications. It recommended that recognized medical and osteopathic schools, practitioners, research institutes, and manufacturers with a Schedule I registration be allowed to produce their own cannabis for research purposes.
The measure would provide the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) the authority to accept applications to become manufacturers of marijuana-derived, FDA-approved pharmaceuticals. Cannabis materials would also be permitted to be imported by manufacturers to encourage research into the plant's medicinal potential.
Another provision would compel the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to examine the health benefits and dangers of marijuana, as well as restrictions that impede research into cannabis cultivated in legal jurisdictions, and provide suggestions on overcoming such hurdles.
The measure further stipulates that "discussing" the risks and advantages of marijuana and cannabis-derived products with patients "shall not constitute a violation of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
According to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate, the idea would cut direct spending by less than $500,000 with a "negligible net reduction in the deficit."
Schumer did include a large-scale infrastructure bill signed by Biden late last year in the updated statement on Senate Democratic accomplishments. However, he did not directly mention a marijuana component in the law that would allow academics to examine genuine marijuana purchased from state-legal enterprises rather than solely government-grown cannabis.
In any event, the infrastructure measure and research bill fall well short of the legalization Schumer promised to bring to the Senate floor if Democrats won a majority. Despite months of labor to garner bipartisan support for the legislation, serious concerns are that it will receive the requisite 60 votes to succeed in the Senate.
At this point, the House has passed a separate legalization measure thrice, most recently in April.
Now, all eyes are on the yet-to-be-introduced SAFE Banking Plus measure, which may include certain CAOA elements but is unlikely to include the critical component of federal marijuana rescheduling.