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Senator Files Bill To Prep for Federal Cannabis Legalization

Colorado Democratic Senator John Hickenlooper introduced Thursday legislation that would prepare the country to legalize cannabis nationwide. It also laid the foundations for the development of regulations at the federal level. Preparing Regulators Effectively for Post-Prohibition Adult Use Regulated Environment Act (PREPARE) directs the U.S. Attorney General to create a regulatory framework for federal cannabis legalization by Congress. This is unlikely to happen as cannabis policy reform is becoming more popular.

Hickenlooper served as Colorado’s governor when recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado. Amendment 64 was passed in 2012. A month later, he convened the Amendment 64 Task Force to provide recommendations for the establishment of regulations that set the stage for Colorado’s successful legal cannabis industry. Hickenlooper, ten years since Amendment 64 was passed by Colorado voters in 2004, announced that he would introduce the bipartisan PREPARE Act at the federal level. 

“A decade after Colorado pioneered marijuana legalization, Americans overwhelmingly support the same at the federal level,” Hickenlooper said in a statement from the senator’s office. “This bipartisan, bicameral framework, based on Colorado’s Amendment 64 Task Force, will replicate our success nationally.”

Companion measure to House Bill

Hickenlooper’s legislation is a companion bill to a House version of the measure sponsored by Representative Dave Joyce, a Republican from Ohio.

“I’m thrilled that the PREPARE Act has been introduced in the Senate, making it not only further bipartisan, but bicameral, and bringing it one step closer to becoming law,” said Joyce. “This legislation gives lawmakers on both sides of the aisle the answers they need to effectively engage on cannabis reform, safely and effectively regulate it, and remedy the harms caused by the failed war on cannabis.” 

“With those answers, Congress can develop a much-needed federal regulatory framework that not only respects the unique needs, rights, and laws of each state, but also ensures a responsible end to prohibition and a safer future for our communities,” he continued. “I was proud to lead the introduction of this commonsense bill in the House and thank Senator Hickenlooper for advancing it in the Senate.”

The bill directs the attorney general to establish a “Commission on the Federal Regulation of Cannabis” to advise on the development of a regulatory framework, which would be modeled after existing federal and state regulations for alcohol. This 24-member panel would include representatives of relevant government offices and agencies, as well as individuals who have been nominated or appointed by the Senate and House leadership.

This legislation demands that the plan created by the commission account for each state’s unique rights, needs and laws. It also directs the commission, within one year after the enactment, to submit the plan to Congress. It would have no rulemaking power. The panel’s only role would be to develop proposals and make policy recommendations.

The regulatory framework developed by the commission would be required to include “ways to remedy the disproportionate impact cannabis prohibition has had on minority, low-income and veteran communities; encourage research and training access by medical professionals; encourage economic opportunity for individuals and small businesses; and develop protections for the hemp industry,” according to Hickenlooper’s office.

There is growing support for cannabis policy reform

Hickenlooper’s bill highlights the growing support for cannabis policy reform in the United States. In October, President Joseph Biden said he would pardon federal charges for simple marijuana possession. Last week, a Pew Research Poll found that 90% Americans are in favor of legalizing cannabis.

“President Biden recently—and correctly—declared the federal government’s categorical criminal ban on cannabis a failure and urged executive leadership at the state and federal levels to take concrete steps to bring about rational reform,” Shane Pennington, an attorney with the cannabis and psychedelics law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP, wrote in an email to Chronic News. “The PREPARE Act seeks to ready the federal government for the far broader reforms, which are now imminent. It will take a concerted and coordinated effort to undo decades worth of outdated cannabis regulations and laws. This includes all levels of government as well as the many federal agencies. The PREPARE Act would lay the necessary groundwork to ensure that the federal government carries out legalization in a fair, efficient, and effective manner.”

Khadijah Tribble, the CEO of the trade group the US Cannabis Council, said the “Biden administration’s review of cannabis scheduling, midterm ballot measures, and polling on cannabis decriminalization all signal that the end of cannabis prohibition isn’t just inevitable — it’s imminent. The PREPARE Act would help ensure that the federal government has a plan in place to ensure a smooth and responsible transition to legal cannabis.” 

“We commend Sen. Hickenlooper and his counterparts in the House for the forethought and attention reflected in the PREPARE Act’s robust legislative framework, which wisely aims to also address the unjust consequences of the War on Drugs by developing recommendations on social equity and policies that create economic opportunity for minority entrepreneurs who want to operate in the legal marketplace,” she continued. “The US Cannabis Council will continue to work with Congress to help the nation get ready for the day legal cannabis is the law of the land.” 

A range of stakeholders support the PREPARE ACT, including the US Cannabis Council, Denver, Black Cannabis Equity Initiative and VS Strategies. Vicente Sederberg LLP and Metric also back the PREPARE ACT.