Industry Experts, Stakeholders Offer Their Takes on Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act
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Industry Experts, Stakeholders Offer Their Takes on Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act

A draft of the federal bill to end cannabis prohibition was introduced by Sens. Chuck Schumer, Ron Wyden and Cory Booker on July 14.

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July 15, 2021

As it stands, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act does not have enough votes to pass the Senate. That’s part of the reason why a final version of the legislation to end cannabis prohibition has yet to be formally filed in Congress.

In unveiling a preliminary draft of the federal cannabis bill on July 14, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.—the sponsors—are hoping to receive feedback from industry stakeholders between now and Sept. 1 as they fight to gain broader support among their colleagues in the upper chamber.

“This is going to be a process,” Schumer said during a joint press conference with Wyden and Booker on Wednesday, shortly after releasing their 163-page legislation.

RELATED: Senate Trio Unveils Federal Cannabis Legalization Draft With Provisions to Deschedule, Tax and Regulate

“This is a draft bill,” Schumer said. “We intend to show it to all of the stakeholders. We don’t have the votes necessary at this point. But we have a large majority of our caucus for it. We’re going to show it to the others and say, ‘Well, what don’t you like? What do you like?’ And we’ll see if we can get the support. We’re going to put our muscle behind it, our effort behind it, and we are going to get this done ASAP.”

Stakeholders aren’t shying away. By and large, early comments have been cautiously supportive—with much of the reaction underscoring the importance of social equity provisions in the proposal. 

Notably, restorative justice measures in the bill include the expungement of non-violent federal cannabis offense convictions, as well as restorative justice and opportunity trust funds reserved for certain reinvestment programs.

The social equity measures seen in states that have recently passed adult-use legislation—like New York, Virginia, New Mexico and Connecticut—aim to deliver a scale of justice to people who deserve it that goes unparalleled in American history.

Below are comments from various stakeholders and policy experts regarding the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act:

Hawkins
“It is time for cannabis prohibition to end, and we applaud the efforts of Senators Cory Booker, Ron Wyden and Senate Leader Chuck Schumer for their bold and necessary bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act. The war on cannabis was engineered to target people of color when it launched in 1937, and we live with the disproportionate impact today. We view this historic bill as an essential step toward righting decades of inequitable wrongs. We implore Congress to consider the importance of this moment; in looking at the eight states that have legalized cannabis since the election last November, it’s clear that ending federal cannabis prohibition is the will of the American people. We should no longer delay. The United States Cannabis Council (USCC) stays committed to its mission of federal legalization that prioritizes access, removes barriers to an equitable industry and provides restorative justice to communities harmed by cannabis prohibition.” –Steve Hawkins, CEO of U.S. Cannabis Council, Executive Director of Marijuana Policy Project
Littlejohn
“This thoughtful and comprehensive draft represents an historic step on the path to federal cannabis legalization. Through this draft, Leader Schumer and Senators Booker and Wyden maintain their commitment to economic justice through cannabis reform by providing for reinvestment into the communities most impacted by cannabis prohibition and by creating pathways for or impacted individuals to participate in this burgeoning industry.” –Amber Littlejohn, Executive Director, Minority Cannabis Business Association
Altieri
“The days of federal prohibition are numbered. These actions by Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Senators Booker and Wyden reflect the fact that the supermajority of Americans are demanding that Congress take action to end the cruel and senseless policy of federal prohibition. It is time for legislators to comport federal law with the laws of the growing number of states that have legalized the plant, and it is time for lawmakers to facilitate a federal structure that allows for cannabis commerce so that responsible consumers can obtain high-quality, low-cost cannabis grown right here in America without fear of arrest and incarceration.” –Erik Altieri, Executive Director, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)
Havens
"While the bill would direct the attorney general to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, it wouldn’t legalize cannabis everywhere. Thus, it’s more appropriate to say that the bill would end the federal prohibition on cannabis, rather than legalize it. States would still be able to prohibit cannabis growing, manufacturing, distribution, sale and consumption within their borders. However, they wouldn’t be able to stop transportation of cannabis through their states (e.g., from one legal state to another legal state, via a state where it’s illegal). Schumer, Booker and Wyden know the bill is a longshot. My view is that they are introducing it to let the caucus know where they stand, and more importantly, to start the conversation and hopefully pave the way for incremental reform. Given the current makeup of the Senate, incremental reform is much more likely than a sweeping proposal like this." –Jonathan Havens, Co-chair of the Cannabis Law Practice and Chair of the Food and Beverage Practice, Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr
Castille
“Today’s press conference was historic and is yet another sign that cannabis prohibition is on its way out the door—but it is critical that this bill and other federal cannabis legislation start to connect the dots between social justice and economic justice. It’s not enough to stop arresting folx. We must provide a pathway to economic liberation and a chance to build generational wealth. Without an equitably functioning cannabis industry, we risk perpetuating the same racial wealth gaps that already exist.” –Kaliko Castille, President, Minority Cannabis Business Association
Perez
"We have been clear from day one that any federal marijuana reform bill must be equally comprehensive to the devastation that has been caused by prohibition, particularly in Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities. And we are grateful to see Senators Booker, Wyden and Schumer heeding that call by including language directly from the MORE Act—centering social equity, reparative justice and reinvestment—that we championed in the House, in the Senate bill, and we look forward to working with them to make marijuana justice a reality this session.” –Maritza Perez, Director of the Office of National Affairs, Drug Policy Alliance
Strekal
“Our main priority is to ensure that Americans who choose to responsibly consume cannabis are no longer discriminated against under the law. With one in eight Americans choosing to consume on a semi-regular basis, including nearly one in four veterans, we must end the practice of arresting over 500,000 Americans every year and denying countless others employment, housing and other civic rights if we are truly to be the ‘Land of the Free.’ The federal government can take great strides toward rectifying this situation by advancing the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act through the legislative process.” –Justin Strekal, Political Director, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)
Kovler
“Cannabis continues to be disproportionately weaponized against communities of color, and we are thrilled that the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act has proposed expungement and community reinvestment measures to address the damage perpetuated by the failed war on drugs. While the bill leaves some questions unanswered, we believe it provides a tangible pathway to true federal legalization.” –Ben Kovler, Founder/CEO, Green Thumb Industries
Whiteman
“We applaud the introduction of legislation that would federally decriminalize cannabis. The introduction of legislation that would federally decriminalize cannabis would have implications far beyond banking. For starters, it will expand the opportunities for minority populations that have been disproportionately targeted during the war on drugs. Federal decriminalization would also enable manufacturing and then shipping across state lines, which would greatly benefit brands like Wana. Supply chains will become more efficient and cost-effective as plants would be grown in appropriate outdoor climates and other materials could be sourced across markets. For a company like Wana, it means that we would be able to manufacture and ship out of regional or national facilities instead of recreating the wheel in every market.” –Nancy Whiteman, CEO, Wana Brands
Perrone
“Today’s new cannabis legalization plan from Senators Schumer, Wyden and Booker is an important first step, but more must be done to address the challenges cannabis workers face and the need to make sure the industry supports good-paying union jobs our families need. Cannabis worker safety and apprenticeships must be a top priority and any federal legislation needs to dedicate funding to further research for these priorities. Congress must also ensure this cannabis legislation respects current state laws while also preventing the industry from moving high-wage union jobs from one state to low-wage agricultural jobs in another state. As America’s largest cannabis workers union, UFCW welcomes this new proposal and urges members of Congress—both Republicans and Democrats—to build on this framework and pass a strong bipartisan bill that establishes a national cannabis policy that ends outdated approaches holding so many communities back.” –Marc Perrone, President, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International
Caltabiano
“The introduction of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act is imperative to address the disparate impact of the war on drugs and right the wrongs created by decades of injustices perpetrated by disproportionate enforcement against minorities. In addition, the opportunity to address safe access to cannabis and robust reforms needed for cannabis banking and tax policy is long overdue. While this bill is an essential step in the right direction, it is a big ask and I’m a realist. It will take a lot to get this bill through Congress and signed by the president. I remain hopeful and enthusiastic for the passage of the Act, but I believe that even incremental actions such as the passage of the SAFE Banking Act would be a tremendous accomplishment for this Congress and the current administration.” –Joe Caltabiano, CEO of Choice Consolidation Corp., Co-founder of Cresco Labs
Archos
“This is a strong step forward to leverage the potential of American cannabis companies to boost our economy, facilitate a more socially equitable landscape, create durable and good-paying jobs, unlock essential banking streams and raise needed tax revenue. Americans strongly support legalization, and Congress needs to address this issue and shape it so the power of this industry can have the most positive impact as it continues to become mainstream.” –George Archos, Founder/CEO, Verano Holdings
Jarrous
“The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act's draft legislation is designed to jumpstart bipartisan negotiations that have been building momentum in Congress since the first states chose to regulate cannabis for adults. While it’s still a long and uphill climb going forward, this is a great step in moving forward towards ultimately achieving true federal cannabis legalization and ending prohibition.” –Narmin Jarrous, Chief Development Officer, Exclusive Brands
Merchan
“Flora Growth applauds the introduction of legislation that would end the federal prohibition on cannabis, especially the proposed expungement and community reinvestment measures to redress the harm caused by the failed war on drugs. While the bill leaves some questions unanswered, we believe it lays the groundwork towards true federal legalization and would remove many of the barriers that state-legal cannabis businesses currently face due to cannabis' Schedule I status, such as tax deductions, banking, capital markets and intellectual property issues. While we remain optimistic and enthusiastic about the passage of the act, we feel that even small steps forward, such as the adoption of the SAFE Banking Act, would be a huge success for this Congress and administration.” –Luis Merchan, CEO, Flora Growth
Hale
"We see this as a very positive piece of legislation, addressing most of the major concerns for the legal cannabis market, which includes allowing regulated sales, allowing states to regulate their own markets and laying out guidelines for federal taxation. Even with regulatory and compliance changes at the federal level, transparency and accountability are going to be critical areas of focus to ensure the legal industry is able to thrive. More regulation will only lead to even more licensing and lending opportunities for entrepreneurs in the industry." –Ryan Hale, Chief Sales Officer, Operational Security Solutions
Gillette
“If there’s anything I’m hoping that Democrats and Republicans can agree upon, it would be the legalization of cannabis at the federal level. … This is huge legislation that we’ve been waiting [on] for a very long time. I know other bills have been introduced, but this one really hits on so many important things that need to be addressed. One of the things that I think is really important is the fact that it allows states to determine their own laws. … Obviously, it’s going to have a tremendous impact should it pass, in that the descheduling of cannabis is going to remove the impact of things like 280E and banking restrictions on the industry. … Getting rid of that barrier, I think, is also going to give opportunities to cannabis businesses to increase wages and offer benefits, including things like 401Ks, that they can’t necessarily offer now because of the lack of banking and because cannabis is federally illegal. On the community side, I think it’s going to be very impactful, as well, because you’re looking at an immediate expungement of federal, nonviolent cannabis crimes, which have significantly impacted people’s lives. … Obviously, I think it’s the right thing to do [for] prisoners that are sitting in jail for nonviolent cannabis crimes while people in their state or people in states that surround their state are profiting from the sale of cannabis. … Then, it’s allowing reinvestment in those communities that have been the most impacted. … This is the right thing to do. It should’ve happened 10 years ago, but it’s the right thing to do, and my hope is that we can at least get support of people in the Senate to be able to pass something like this. Obviously, we can’t continue to live in a system where it’s legal under state law and illegal under federal law, but … I don’t think it’s going to be perfected the day the bill is signed into law. I think it’s going to be evolving over time, the same way many states’ regulatory programs evolved over time.” —Rachel Gillette, Partner & Leader of Cannabis Industry Group, Holland & Hart LLP
Richards
“It is a big deal that federal legalization has been proposed by the Democratic party. And while it may be a long shot in the current Congress, it gives us a road map as to what legalization may look like. Businesses should pay attention. It also may set up an opportunity for the executive branch to de-schedule cannabis if Congress can’t get it done. Social equity is very important and, while the industry is doing much for social equity at the state level, it cannot be achieved if the federal government is still fighting the war on drugs—the same ‘war’ that caused social inequality in the first place and destroyed the very lives the industry is trying to improve.” –Nick Richards, Partner and Chair of the Cannabis Law Group, Greenspoon Marder LLP

Below are comments from Sens. Chuck Schumer, Ron Wyden and Cory Booker regarding their draft release of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act:

Schumer
“I will use my clout as majority leader to make this a priority in the Senate. As my colleagues and I have said before, the war on drugs has really been a war on people, particularly people of color. The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act would help put an end to the unfair targeting and treatment of communities of color by removing cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances. It’s not just an idea whose time has come; it’s long overdue. We have all seen the agony of a young person arrested with a small amount of marijuana in his or her pocket, and because of the historic overcriminalization of marijuana, they have a very severe criminal record they have to live with their whole lives. It’s tougher to get a job; tougher to get credit; tougher to live a normal life. The waste of human resources because of the historic overcriminalization has been one of the great historical wrongs for the last decades. We are going to change. We are going to fight hard to change.” –Sen. Chuck Schumer, Majority Leader
Wyden
“Cannabis prohibition, a key pillar of the failed war on drugs, has caused substantial harm to our communities and small businesses, and especially for communities of color. It’s as simple as this: Senators Booker, Schumer and I want to bring common sense to the federal government, end prohibition and restore the lives of those hurt most and set them up for opportunity.” –Sen. Ron Wyden, Chair, Senate Finance Committee
Booker
“For decades, our federal government has waged a war on drugs that has unfairly impacted low-income communities and communities of color. While red and blue states across the country continue to legalize marijuana, the federal government continues to lag woefully behind. It is time for Congress to end the federal marijuana prohibition and reinvest in communities most impacted by the failed war on drugs. I am proud to introduce this landmark piece of legislation with Senator Wyden and Majority Leader Schumer that will finally turn the page on this dark chapter in American history and begin righting these wrongs.” –Sen. Cory Booker

Digital Editor Eric Sandy, Senior Digital Editor Melissa Schiller, Associate Editor Tony Lange and Assistant Editor Andriana Ruscitto contributed to this report.