In this file photo, David Burr demonstrates removing leaves on marijuana plants to allow more light for growth at Essence Vegas’ 54,000-square-foot marijuana cultivation facility on July 6, 2017, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — A small but influential group of Democratic senators is asking their colleagues for input on how best to overhaul the federal government’s cannabis laws.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and New Jersey’s Cory Booker released a letter Thursday asking senators whose states have legalized marijuana and those who sit on committees with oversight of federal drug policy to share their thoughts as the three attempt to perfect the legislation.
“Hundreds of millions of Americans live in states that have legalized cannabis in some form while it remains illegal at the federal level,” they wrote.
“This discrepancy leads to confusion and uncertainty and raises significant questions around criminal justice reform, economic development and small business growth, and public health and safety, all of which we believe require some type of federal answer.”
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The three released a 30-page draft last year that detailed possible changes to several policy areas where state laws and the federal classification of marijuana as a Schedule I illegal substance don’t line up.
So far, they’ve received more than 1,800 comments with “substantive and detailed policy recommendations,” but the three want to hear more from their fellow senators in the coming weeks.
They didn’t set a firm timeline for introducing a bill in their letter, but did say they “aim to introduce legislation soon that is as comprehensive and as reflective of as many relevant views and voices as possible.”
Federal marijuana legislation faces major hurdles
The biggest hurdle for the legislation would be garnering support from at least 10 Republican senators, the minimum number needed to advance a bill in the evenly divided Senate.
U.S. House members, who back changes to some federal marijuana laws, said last week that they’re not sure one sweeping overhaul bill is the right approach right now.
They’ve instead opted to break up the policy areas into separate bills, including the so-called SAFE Banking Act, which would allow marijuana businesses operating in line with their state laws to use banks the way non-cannabis businesses can.
Ohio Republican Dave Joyce and Colorado Democrat Ed Perlmutter said last week they believe the best approach is to send smaller cannabis reform bills to President Joe Biden one at a time.
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“We know the president has been somewhat reluctant on this subject, so the incremental approach that we talked about earlier is probably a better one to present to the administration,” Perlmutter said.
The two, along with the other 178 co-sponsors of the legislation, were able to attach the cannabis banking bill to a separate piece of legislation on the House floor last week.
The House and Senate will soon begin conferencing that measure.
The process will mostly focus on working out the differences on the aspects geared toward improving U.S. manufacturing and boosting competitiveness with China, but conferees will also decide whether the banking changes, which were added as an amendment, will head to Biden.
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