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Surge of Advocacy Groups Weigh In on Federal Cannabis Reform Bill

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Yesterday was the deadline for the comment period on the draft version of the federal cannabis reform bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), and cannabis advocacy groups did not disappoint—with an avalanche of commentary rolling in before the time was up.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) signed on as lead sponsors for a sweeping bill to end the prohibition of cannabis at the federal level.

The draft version of the measure was released in July, which led to an open public comment period giving people time to weigh in on what will be the revised measure.

Several well-known cannabis advocacy organizations such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) and the Marijuana Policy Project (MMP) released their comments.

The Marijuana Justice Coalition opted to send a joint letter on the legalization proposal. The Marijuana Justice Coalition is made up of members including the ACLU, Center for American Progress, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch, Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, MoveOn, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

In a 30-page comment document, NORML called for strengthening civic protections to provide justice to those previously wronged by federal marijuana criminalization and revising outdated employment policies. The organization also called for ensuring that small and local businesses can compete both with larger corporations and the illicit market by reducing regulatory and tax burdens. NORML also asked to narrow the scope of the proposed excise tax to exempt medical cannabis consumer markets and balance the roles of the FDA, TTB, ATF and antitrust regulators.

“We appreciate the leadership by Senators Schumer, Booker, and Wyden in their efforts to end America’s failed, unjust, and racially biased experiment with cannabis prohibition. The CAOA draft represents a thoughtful path forward toward ending federal marijuana criminalization. We are confident that similar language, once finalized and formally introduced in the US Senate, will possess bipartisan appeal — as we know that voters of all political parties strongly support repealing the federal government’s failed marijuana policies,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. 

The summary of NORML’s discussion draft can be read here.

MPP also stressed the importance of easing restrictions on medical cannabis patients. MPP outlined two major areas of concern: the possible upending of state licensing and regulatory systems, which does nothing but drive sales underground, and the impact on medical cannabis access, including for those under the age of 21.

“We are grateful for the leadership of Sens. Booker, Schumer, and Wyden to end an eight-decades long policy failure and appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback as the sponsoring offices refine the bill,” said Karen O’Keefe, state policies director at MPP. Federal prohibition urgently needs to end. It has wasted billions of dollars while upending tens of thousands of lives—disproportionately those of Black and Brown Americans—over a plant that is safer than alcohol.

The NCIA stated that the CAOA presents a “thoughtful foundation for comprehensive cannabis policy reform that clearly illustrates the authors’ engagement with stakeholders during the drafting process.” Read the NCIA’s full draft of recommendations here.

“Ending nearly a century of disastrous prohibition policies is a monumental effort and one which should not be taken lightly,” said Aaron Smith, co-founder and chief executive officer of NCIA. “We appreciate Senate leadership for taking a big step toward that goal which a significant majority of Americans support. There is a lot of work left to be done and it is vital to include those most impacted by both prohibition and the proposed legislation in this process.”

The wave of commentary represents the importance of the bill and how the industry hinges upon those fine details.





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