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Senate Judiciary Committee Holds First Hearing On Cannabis Legalization

August 2, 2022

Following the introduction of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) in the Senate, the chamber made history with its first ever hearing on the topic of cannabis legalization. It was held by the Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism, chaired by Cory Booker, who is a leading sponsor of the CAOA.

The bill would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and eliminate federal prohibitions in states that have legalized it. For regulation, the bill transfers federal jurisdiction over cannabis from the DEA to the FDA and TTB and implements a regulatory regime similar to alcohol and tobacco while establishing a Center for Cannabis Products with the FDA to regulate production, labeling, distribution, sales, and other manufacturing and retail elements. It eliminates the tax code’s 280E restriction that prevents standard business deductions within the industry.

The subcommittee heard testimony from five witnesses: Dr. Malik Burnett, the medical director for the Maryland Department of Health’s Center for Harm Reduction Services; Edward Jackson, chief of police for Annapolis, Maryland; Weldon Angelos, president and founder of The Weldon Project; Steven Cook, a former associate deputy attorney general; and Alex Berenson, a journalist who published a book about the dangers of cannabis use and was banned from Twitter for spreading misinformation about the pandemic.

The panel adjourned without taking any action, leaving it unclear where the bill goes from here. However, in addition to pursuing CAOA, in recent days Booker has signaled that he may be open to pursuing a more narrow compromise bill that incorporates the SAFE Banking measure that has already passed the House of Representatives, along with restorative justice provisions aimed at helping those harmed in the war on drugs.—Danny Sullivan

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