New Bills: Marijuana Justice Act, REFER Act, and RESPECT Resolution

by Michelle Rutter, NCIA’s Government Relations Manager

Last week, multiple pieces of legislation and one resolution were introduced to address social equity, diversity, and fairness in the cannabis industry.

The Marijuana Justice Act was introduced in both the House and the Senate by Cannabis Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and 2020 presidential-hopeful Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), respectively. Last session, the House version garnered 43 cosponsors, while the Senate had six in the last session. It is currently the most far-reaching and comprehensive cannabis policy reform legislation being considered in Congress.

The Marijuana Justice act would not only remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act schedule and eliminate federal criminal penalties for its possession, cultivation, manufacture, import, and export, but also includes several provisions to address the historically discriminatory enforcement of cannabis laws and sentencing. All federal cannabis use or possession convictions would be expunged under the measure, and a special grant program would be created through the Department of Housing and Urban Development to reinvest in communities that have been most impacted by prohibition. It would also allow Congress to withhold federal funds from states that exhibit racially disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates under their own cannabis laws.

In addition to this bicameral piece of legislation, Rep. Lee also introduced the Restraining Excessive Federal Enforcement & Regulations of Cannabis (REFER) Act in the House. The REFER Act “prohibits the use of funds made available by Congress to a federal department or agency” to intervene in state-legal cannabis programs or penalize financial institutions that service the cannabis industry.

Rep. Lee also introduced the Realizing Equitable & Sustainable Participation in Emerging Cannabis Trades (RESPECT) Resolution, which recognizes that the people most harmed by the racially disparate enforcement of prohibition benefit the least from some of the state and local policies regulating the cannabis market. The resolution urges officials and lawmakers to implement a series of practices when granting licenses for legal cannabis businesses to improve access for these communities to the nascent industry, such as minimal application and license fees, no caps on the number of licenses, increased local control of the licensing process, and removing broad felony and cannabis convictions as automatic disqualifiers for participation.

NCIA is proud to include the Marijuana Justice Act as one of our priority pieces of legislation, and we look forward to working with members of Congress to build support for the bill.

If you’re interested in lobbying in support of this bill, or any others, make sure you register for NCIA’s 9th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days in Washington, D.C. on May 21-23 so that you can tell congressional offices your personal story. There’s strength in numbers, and we can’t do it without you!

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