Federal Legislation to Legalize Cannabis Consumption Introduced in the U.S. Senate

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Federal Legislation to Legalize Cannabis

On July 21st, 2022, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act was introduced to the U.S. Senate by Majority leader Chuck Schumer and others. This Bill would remove cannabis from the list of controlled substances leaving states free to regulate the drug.

In addition to removing the federal prohibition on cannabis, this Act would expunge criminal records for lower-level related federal convictions and permit those currently incarcerated for related convictions to petition the courts for relief. It would also introduce new taxes for related businesses, limit the legal consumption of recreational cannabis products to those 21 years of age and older, and direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to introduce new standards for cannabis-impaired driving and the Food and Drug Administration to create safety, health, and labeling standards for cannabis.

According to a press release from the Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer, “The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act will be a catalyst for change by removing cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances, protecting public health and safety, and expunging the criminal records of those with low-level cannabis offenses, providing millions with a new lease on life.”

Under this Act, states would still have the ability to block marijuana production and sales in their jurisdictions, and federal law would still prohibit the trafficking of the substance in states that choose to do so. However, the state would be unable to prevent the transport of cannabis products through their jurisdictions between states that choose to legalize these products.

Federal employers would be prohibited under the Act from performing employment-related drug testing, with some exceptions for law enforcement and national security positions. Additionally, individuals could not be denied any federal benefits, including the denial of a security clearance for employment resulting from the possession or use of cannabis products or a conviction for a cannabis-related offense.

For employers in the cannabis industry that would be required to obtain a federal cannabis permit, this Bill could have a uniquely significant impact. Under the legislation, these employers could have their permits rescinded for violations of certain labor laws.

The first release of the CAOA Act was released as a discussion draft in 2021 with a request for comments from stakeholders. After receiving more than 1,800 comments and working with various Senate committees, the proposal was revised and formally introduced July 21. [CAOA discussion draft full summary of revisions can be viewed here.]

Should the Bill become law, these new regulations could significantly impact employers receiving federal funding or working under a federal agency or contract. However, as of now, the future of the Bill remains uncertain, with a number of Senators still highly opposed to cannabis legalization at the federal level. Many have raised concern about the lack of detail on how the FDA would be directed to regulate cannabis products. In addition, the legislation is largely premised on the regulation of cannabis to be managed similar to alcohol, but many feel cannabis, being a much more of complex pharmacological substance than alcohol, requires more complexities.

Ultimately the final version of the Act has been published, it seems unlikely to be passed into law. However, this can provide a view into what broad federal marijuana regulation might resemble when later.

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