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Federal bill H.R. 420 may change the political course of cannabis in the United States

420 is no longer code for cannabis consumption; it’s now the reserved number for a bill that could change federal cannabis law, if it passes, that is.

H.R. 420, a bill filed on January 9 by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, would remove cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act.

“While the bill number may be a bit tongue in cheek, the issue is very serious. Our federal marijuana laws are outdated, out of touch, and have negatively impacted countless lives,” Blumenauer said in Press Release. “Congress cannot continue to be out of touch with a movement that a growing number of Americans support. It’s time to end this senseless prohibition.”

Blumenauer’s proposed H.R. 420, called the “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act” would establish federal regulations for cannabis. Marijuana would then be overseen by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer/ Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

The Congressional Cannabis Caucus

The 116th Congress promises to be an interesting one for cannabis policy reform. On the same day as introducing H.R. 420, Blumenauer also announced the launch of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.

Blumenauer is a leading advocate for pot policy reform, founded and co-chairs the Cannabis Caucus. The Caucus leadership team consists of Rep. Barbara Lee, the first woman of color to Co-Chair the Caucus; Rep. Dave Joyce; and Rep. Don Young, who will return to the caucus as the Co-Chair.

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“The Cannabis Caucus was the first of its kind to create a forum for elected officials to collaborate on ways to address our outdated federal marijuana laws,” Blumenauer said in the Press Release.

It's time to end this senseless prohibition. #CommonSenseCannabis https://t.co/AbCU5ESHOa

— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) January 10, 2019

In addition to tackling the Controlled Substances Act, the Cannabis Caucus hopes to address the innate disparities in the cannabis business, ensuring that women and people of color have a voice in the reform effort.

“For far too long, communities of color and women have been left out of the conversation on cannabis. I am committed to ensuring that marijuana reform goes hand-in-hand with criminal justice reform so we can repair some of the harm of the failed War on Drugs. We must also work to build an industry that is equitable and inclusive of the communities most impacted by cannabis prohibition,” said Lee.

The Cannabis Caucus founded on the idea that federal cannabis laws are “out of touch” with current popular opinion. According to Blumenauer, 98 percent of Americans now live in states that permit legal access to marijuana, in varying degrees. Whether it’s medicinal or legalized recreational cannabis, the pro-pot argument has officially reached the federal political stage.

“The federal government’s interference in this arena has stifled important medical research, interfered with doctors and patients making treatment decisions, and harmed state-legal business,” Joyce from the Cannabis Caucus said in the Press Release. “I look forward to working with [the Caucus] to advance sensible cannabis reforms that will benefit our nation’s veterans, patients, and businesses across the country.”

Legislators have a sense of humor

While the numbering of H.R. 420 is meant to be a tad tongue in cheek, this isn’t the first time that legislators have pushed to use 420 for their official legislative numbering.

In California, the first effort to create a statewide medical marijuana program was through a bill numbered SB 420 back in 2003. While the bill ultimately failed, legislators and their staffers got a good chuckle out of it.

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Similarly, in 2017, a Rhode Island Senator filed a bill which would have legalized recreational marijuana use. The bill was designated: S 420. Even federal legislators have gotten on the 420 bus. Back in 2003, the House voted on a measure which would block the Department of Justice from interfering with state medical cannabis laws. The measure: Roll Call 420.

What would H.R. 420 do?

H.R. 420, as introduced, borrows from previously proposed legislation from former Rep. Jared Polis, who is now serving as Colorado’s newly elected governor.

The bill would remove cannabis from the list of Schedule I drugs in the Controlled Substance Act and would transfer enforcement authority from the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, which would also get a name change to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana, Firearms, and Explosives.

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H.R. 420 would allow for the creation of federal permits for the cultivation, packaging, selling, and importing of marijuana. The shipping or transporting of marijuana into states that have not legalized marijuana would be prohibited under the proposed legislation.

Allowing for the interstate transportation of state-approved cannabis could prove to be incredibly important for Blumenauer, as his home-state is currently dealing with an excess of cannabis-inventory.

During the 115th Congress, Polis’ iteration of H.R. 420 scraped up 26 cosponsors. Only time will tell how much support Blumenauer will manage to garner. Fortunately, he and the Cannabis Caucus are not the only ones interested in pot political reform. In a one-week-old legislative session, there are already three other pieces of standalone cannabis legislation.

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