A bill introduced by Republican Representative Nancy Mace (South Carolina) would decriminalize marijuana on the federal level with the goal of allowing states to make legislation without worrying about unfavorable reactions from the federal government, reported USA Today.
The bill, officially called H.R. 5977, seeks “to amend the controlled substance act regarding marihuana, and for other purposes.” It was sponsored by Mace along with co-sponsors Representatives Tom McClintock, Don Young, Brian Mast, and Peter Meijer.
In a Tweet from Mace’s official account, she said, “Federal prohibition isn’t working and states know it. Forty-seven have spoken and want Washington to get out of the way on cannabis.”
The legislation would be regulating cannabis on the federal level, similar to how alcohol is treated. It would not be accessible for people below the age of 21.
A notable difference from other federal cannabis-related bills is it will be regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau instead of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
This is because “The FDA can really slow things down. We don’t want that to get in the way of what’s already happening. We call out version FDA-light. We want to make sure states have the power to fully regulate cannabis. If you treat cannabis like alcohol, it’s more palatable to both sides,” Mace said in an interview with Bloomberg’s The Dose, a newsletter focused on cannabis and psychedelics.
Aside from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Forearms, and Explosives for the industry itself, the measure will seek the help of the Department of Agriculture with regards to farming and the FDA for medical marijuana.
USA Today noted that federal decriminalization can eliminate an “impediment” faced by many states when moving toward their own marijuana legalization laws.
One of the main goals of this law is to protect states’ rights to create their own marijuana reforms. The representative said, “It protects each state’s unique laws and reforms. It takes into account at the federal level that every state is different.”
Overwhelmingly Positive Response
The legislation is said to receive overall positive feedback from Republicans and Democrats alike. She added, “It will be interesting in the next couple of days to see how much Republican support I get. Then we will start approaching Democrats once we get to a good sport – and we’re hearing positive things from the Senate as well – I have heard privately from some Senate Democrats. I won’t name them.”
Mace, who has experienced using cannabis to help with mental disorders, hopes to get support from fellow Republicans. However, the bill was opposed by some parties from South Carolina, a few of whom are committed to resisting any marijuana legalization actions.
Mace’s home state remains to be a staunch opponent of marijuana legalization. So far, South Carolina has only passed one bill related to marijuana, which legalizes the prescription of CBD.
GOP Chairman Drew McKissick, who appeared with Mace after her victory against U.S. Representative Joe Cunningham, issued a statement saying that the state GOP does not support any move to legalize and decriminalize controlled substances, including Mace’s bill.
Interestingly, McKissick introduced a cannabis legalization bill during his campaign for the position of South Carolina governor. Despite this, H.R. 5977 obtained support for Americans for Prosperity in the state and other advocacy groups.
Not the First Time
This is not the first time that legislators introduced a bill to make cannabis legal on the federal level. Last year, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2020 (H.R. 3884) was introduced by Democrat Representative Jerrold Nadler (New York), seeking to decriminalize marijuana and remove it from the list of scheduled substances.
It also seeks to eliminate criminal punishments for manufacturing, distributing, and possessing cannabis, among other changes it aims to make. This early version of the bill passed House in December 2020.
The current version, H.R. 3617 or the MORE Act of 2021 was introduced on May 2021 and was heard by the House Committee in September. The committee will be issuing a report to the chamber to recommend further action, which will include hearings in the House and the Senate, then sent to the President.
The Compromise Bill
Many are referring to the bill as a “compromise,” which Mace affirmed. She said, “I think that this is a good description. I don’t think the MORE Act had medical exceptions for cannabis use for under-21s like this bill does.”
The representative took social equity benefits into consideration by including an expungement and release provision for convictions involving cannabis only, that are not related to cartels or DUIs. States that already have similar laws in place can implement their provisions.
As an advocate of civil justice reform, Mace also included a waiver on fees for businesses that are socially and economically underprivileged. Tax revenues that would be generated through the bill would be funneled toward law enforcement, opioid-epidemic inflicted states, small business funding, marijuana education for children, and mental health support for veterans.
Mace sees cannabis as “an issue that is truly bi-partisan” that is “overwhelmingly supported by Republicans and Democrats alike.” This is why “a piece of legislation that has the support of both parties and can pass both chambers,” she said. To further open the opportunity for both parties, Mace said she is willing to amend the law.
Mace anticipates negotiation on the matter of taxation. According to her, it is important to keep taxes low, ideally around 3% to 3.75% to avoid encouraging the illicit market. She cited the case of California, where the legal market is accessible, but the black market is thriving due to high tax rates.
Mace’s new federal cannabis decriminalization bill is looking positive, especially with the expected support from both parties. The inclusion of social equity benefits is also a sign of progressive legislation. Overall, the representative is open to ideas that can pave the way toward creating a compromise bill that can prioritize the public’s economic and social concerns.