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From Booker to Hatch: Four Major Marijuana Bills on Capitol Hill

Since last February, when a bipartisan group of legislators launched the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, lawmakers have filed a flurry of bills aimed at reforming federal drug laws. Here’s a look at some of that legislation:

Marijuana Justice Act of 2017

Introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in August, the Marijuana Justice Act is the most buzzed-about cannabis legislation announced this year. It would remove cannabis completely from the Controlled Substances Act, which now has it in Schedule I, prohibiting any medical use. The bill’s criminal-justice reform measures include expunging marijuana-possession convictions and restricting federal funds for states that have disproportionate arrest rates for cannabis offenses. It would also establish a «Community Reinvestment Fund” that would provide grants for job training, expunging criminal records, and community centers. Several other bills, including the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act and the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act, would also deschedule cannabis, but none go as far as Booker’s to remedy the injustices caused by the War on Drugs.

Status: Referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Veterans Equal Access Act

The Veterans Administration prohibits its doctors from talking to patients about medical marijuana, even in states where it’s legal . The Veterans Equal Access Act, introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) in March, directs the VA to allow its doctors to recommend cannabis to veterans in those states.

Status: Referred to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s health subcommittee.

Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2017

Long before any state legalized marijuana, a Minneapolis drug dealer tried to deduct business expenses on his 1974 tax return. (He was somewhat successful.) The result: Section 280E, a tax-code amendment enacted in 1982 that prohibits illegal-drug dealers from taking business deductions—which denies companies in the cannabis industry the ability to take basic business deductions. The Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2017, sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) I March, would exempt marijuana businesses from this ban, as long as they’re complying with state laws.

Status: Referred to the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee.

Marijuana Effective Drug Studies Act of 2017

Also known as the MEDS Act, this bill is notable because its sponsor is Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who reiterated his opposition to recreational marijuana when he introduced it Sept. 13. But Hatch also said he worried “that in our zeal to enforce the law, we too often blind ourselves to the medicinal benefits of natural substances like cannabis.» The MEDS Act would remove barriers associated with researching a Schedule I substance.

Status: Referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

There Are a Few Others…

The Second Chance for Students Act would allow those who’ve been convicted of marijuana possession to receive federal student aid. The States’ Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act would prevent property involved in state-legal medical-marijuana activity from being seized through civil asset forfeiture. Other bills seek to amend the Controlled Substances Act so states could set their own marijuana laws without conflicting with federal law.

What Are the Chances of These Bills Passing?

If history is any indication, the answer is «slim to none.» While many have bipartisan support, the only federal legislation loosening marijuana laws passed since 2014 has been the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prohibits the Department of Justice from spending money to prosecute medical-marijuana patients and businesses in compliance with their state’s laws. On Sept. 6, the leadership of the House Rules Committee blocked a vote on renewing the amendment. For more, see “Congress Endangers Critical Medical-Marijuana Protection