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Here’s what Oklahoma needs to know about the coming cannabis vote in Congress

September 03, 2020 by G.W. Schulz

Lawmakers in Washington are for the first time considering what was once unthinkable - making marijuana legal nationwide.

In the bill now being considered by the House of Representatives, the Federal government would decriminalize cannabis by no longer classifying it as a Schedule 1 drug alongside deadly opiates like heroin and fentanyl. Cannabis would also no longer be defined as lacking medical value, according to the bill, known formally as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act.

Neither chamber of Congress has ever taken up a full vote on whether to “deschedule” or “decriminalize” marijuana since lawmakers passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, which marked the opening salvo in what became America’s bruising war on drugs.

More than eight million people were jailed for marijuana in the United States between 2000 and 2010, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, and over half of drug arrests in the United States are reportedly attributable to cannabis. Oklahoma for decades has helped lead the nation in taking a tough, law-and-order approach to fighting drugs and marijuana.

What it means for Oklahoma

If passed, the law would not fully legalize cannabis. Instead, under the bill’s provisions, states are left to decide whether to continue prohibiting cannabis, or whether to create regulations for its legal use. Over 30 states permit the use of medical marijuana with a doctor’s prescription, and eleven states have full legalization. Oklahoma passed its own medical marijuana law in 2018, and two years prior, reduced penalties for possessing or selling it without a license.

So what would passage of the bill mean for Oklahoma?

  • Unless the state legislature or voters took their own action, a medical marijuana license would still be required to possess and consume cannabis legally
  • Consuming marijuana would still be illegal outside of a residence
  • People in Oklahoma convicted of marijuana offenses under federal law could seek to have their criminal records expunged or their sentences reviewed
  • The law would not affect marijuana convictions that occurred under state law
  • Federal public benefits would no longer be denied to those with a marijuana conviction
  • Oklahoma would continue to strictly enforce marijuana DUI laws, even with a doctor’s prescription
  • Oklahoma would still regulate the medical marijuana industry, which today includes thousands of commercial license holders
  • Commercial cannabis businesses in Oklahoma would pay a new five percent federal tax on marijuana, in addition to any existing state and local taxes
  • Commercial cannabis businesses would have far better access to banking services and reduced reliance on cash
  • Commercial cannabis businesses would have access to Small Business Administration loans and services

The bill was first proposed by leading Democrats in the House in 2019. It’s expected to clear the House with the support of Democrats and some Republicans. But political observers say it faces trouble in the Senate where Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and fellow Republicans either don’t consider legalization to be a priority or outright oppose it.

One congressman said the vote, expected in September, would “end the failed policy of prohibition that has resulted in a long and shameful period of selective enforcement against people of color, especially black men. As people across the country protest racial injustices, there’s even greater urgency for Congress to seize this historic opportunity and finally align our cannabis laws with what the majority of Americans support.”

What if it doesn’t pass?

If the bill fails to pass, cannabis reforms will continue to happen at the State level. Several states, including Oklahoma, have taken their own steps in defiance of the Federal Government to begin reversing the negative impacts of the War on Drugs. Oklahoma has its own process for expungement of past marijuana-related offenses, but only if they occurred under State law. If you have a criminal conviction for Marijuana related offense in Oklahoma and you meet the criteria, you should consider seeking an expungement. We have helped hundreds of people move on with their lives from past mistakes. Our initial evaluation is always free.

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