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May 25, 2022 | In The News

Shifting Conservative Attitudes Toward Cannabis Reflected In New Efforts By The Congressional Cannabis Caucus

Research from Gallup released last year shows that record numbers of Americans support some form of cannabis legalization, as more states pass laws legalizing medical and recreational adult uses of cannabis. This has resulted in both parties represented in Congress taking federal cannabis policy more seriously.

In the Republican Party, for example, a majority now support legalization (though, of course, there is a fair degree of variation in what voters think that should look like in practice), and these shifting attitudes are now reflected in the halls of Congress, where Republican lawmakers are spearheading a number of bills that have pulled back the curtain on federal prohibition and prompted new discussions of what a federal regulation of cannabis should look like. 

Last fall, Representative Nancy Mace (R-SC-01) introduced H.R. 5977, the States Reform Act, a bill to end federal cannabis prohibition and tax the product. Before the States Reform Act, Representative Greg Steube (R-FL-17) introduced H.R. 430, the Veterans Cannabis Use for Safe Healing Act, one of now many initiatives to grant veterans medical access to cannabis. And in spring of 2021, the late Representative Don Young (R-AK-At Large) demonstrated what conservative federal cannabis policy could look like with the introduction of H.R. 2830, the GRAM Act, a bill to protect Second Amendment rights of adults in states where cannabis is permitted.

The list of Republican-led initiatives neither starts nor stops there, however. 

Representative Dave Joyce (R-OH-14), a Republican co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, has been at the forefront of the conservative effort to enact strategic cannabis reform at the federal level. In the 115th Congress, he first introduced the STATES Act with the caucus’ founding co-chair, Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-3). 

In May of 2021, he introduced the first Republican-led bill to end federal cannabis prohibition, H.R. 3105, the Common Sense Cannabis Reform Act. This bill was the first in either chamber or party to recognize the need for federal regulation. It quickly gained bipartisan support, which remains an important underlying theme to Mr. Joyce’s cannabis reform efforts. This is why he is often considered a broker for Republicans on this issue, especially in today’s narrowly divided margins in the House and Senate.

In December of 2021, he worked across the aisle with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY-14) to introduce H.R. 6129, the HOPE Act, which is aimed at expunging petty and non-violent state and local cannabis convictions. The goal of this bipartisan legislation would be to expand economic opportunities for the individuals and communities who have been affected by those offenses in the past. Notably, the only language that has been signed into law to date allowing federal dollars to support cannabis expungements was secured by Representative Joyce. 

And just this April, he again joined forces with notable progressive Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY-08) and the newly appointed Republican caucus co-chair Brian Mast (R-FL-18) and introduced the Preparing Regulators Effectively for a Post-Prohibition Adult Use Regulated Environment (the PREPARE) Act.

This bill would establish an inaugural federal commission to advise on an eventual federal regulatory framework for cannabis. Even as a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, Mr. Joyce has been vocal regarding a need for federal regulation of cannabis, and has been critical of legislation which does not include it. Despite considerable pushback, Joyce has remained firm in his belief that regulation is critical to not only a safe and prosperous legal environment, but also to building the bipartisan buy-in necessary to end federal prohibition. This position has resonated across the ideological spectrum, as Senate Democrats are expected to roll out a sweeping reform package later this summer with substantial focus on federal regulations. 

Some bipartisan bills on cannabis have already passed both chambers.

The most notable example is H.R. 1996, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which has passed the U.S. House of Representatives six times to date, most recently with over 100 Republicans voting in support. Many recall a time when Republican support for SAFE was the exception on cannabis policy, not the rule. Many credit this progress both to Representative Ed Perlmutter’s (D-CO-7) relentless work on the issue, and Mr. Joyce’s advocacy between top House Republicans and industry stakeholders in reframing the bill as necessary for public safety to attract conservatives. This is demonstrative of the type of bipartisanship cannabis requires. Without it, important momentum will fade.

It will take both Republicans and their Democratic colleagues to finally send cannabis legislation to the President’s desk, and it is apparent Republicans are slowly coming along on the topic, and accepting the market exists. It also demonstrates compromise will be required in all forthcoming cannabis legislation for movement to occur.