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Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado), thinks it’s a matter of when, not if, the federal government will legalize cannabis.

Hickenlooper on Dec. 1 introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate to create a regulatory framework that would kick in when that happens.

The Preparing Regulators Effectively for a Post-Prohibition Adult Use Regulated Environment Act is being called the PREPARE Act.

With the addition of Missouri and Maryland, where voters authorized legalized cannabis in the November election, marijuana is now legal for adults in 21 states and Washington, D.C., and medical marijuana is legal in 38 states. Colorado led the way, becoming the first state to authorize adult-use marijuana sales 10 years ago.

The PREPARE Act “would establish a fair, honest, and publicly transparent process for the development of regulations at the federal level that incorporates many of the lessons learned by these states,” according to a Dec. 1 news release.

While governor of Colorado, Hickenlooper ushered in the legal marijuana era after voters passed Amendment 64 in November 2012. He convened a task force to determine how to implement the law. Colorado’s marijuana program, widely deemed successful, has been emulated by other states.

“A decade after Colorado pioneered marijuana legalization, Americans overwhelmingly support the same at the federal level,” Hickenlooper says. “This bipartisan, bicameral framework … will replicate our success nationally.”

The PREPARE Act would replicate the Amendment 64 task force at the federal level.

The bill directs the attorney general to establish a 24-member “Commission on the Federal Regulation of Cannabis” to advise on the development of a regulatory framework modeled after existing federal and state regulations for alcohol.

The commission would include representatives from relevant government agencies and offices and members nominated by Senate and House leadership and other government agencies.

The commission would not have rulemaking authority. Its only role would be to develop proposals and make policy recommendations.

The regulatory framework would:

• Account for the unique needs, rights and laws of each state;

• include ways to remedy the disproportionate impact cannabis prohibition has had on minority, low-income and veteran communities;

• encourage research and training access by medical professionals;

• support economic opportunity for individuals and small businesses and develop protections for the hemp industry; and

• be presented to Congress within one year of enactment of the PREPARE Act.

Hickenlooper’s bill is a companion to HR 7513, an identical measure with bipartisan sponsorship introduced in the House on April 14 by Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio).

“I’m thrilled that the PREPARE Act has been introduced in the Senate, making it not only further bipartisan, but bicameral, and bringing it one step closer to becoming law,” Joyce says. “This legislation gives lawmakers on both sides of the aisle the answers they need to effectively engage on cannabis reform, safely and effectively regulate it, and remedy the harms caused by the failed war on cannabis. … I look forward to continuing to work with [Hickenlooper] and my fellow Cannabis Caucus Co-Chairs in the House to pave the way for more comprehensive reform.”

The House bill was referred on May 5 to the House Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research, which has not acted on it yet.

You can read the text of the bill at tinyurl.com/sen-act and a summary of the bill’s provisions at tinyurl.com/sen-summary.

Cashless ATMs are shutting down

Cannabis business owners are hoping that the SAFE Banking Act, also pending in the Senate, gets approved soon, because the system of cashless ATMs that many marijuana shops use is getting shut down.

Cashless ATMs, also called “point of banking” systems, allow buyers to use a bank card instead of cash.

The system has come under increased regulatory scrutiny because the transactions made pot purchases look like ATM withdrawals coming from different addresses, such as a nearby McDonald’s, and resemble money laundering, according to a Dec. 5 post on BloombergLaw.com.

Some of the largest processors of these transactions, including NCR’s Columbus Data Services, started turning off the service the first week of December, Bloomberg Law reports, leaving marijuana shop owners scrambling to notify their customers that they would accept cash only.

Dispensaries in Arizona, California and Massachusetts have experienced outages, the report says. It isn’t known how widespread the issue is in Colorado.

The SAFE Banking Act would permit financial institutions to provide services to legal cannabis businesses. It’s been passed in the House but has failed seven times in the Senate. 

Jeanne Davant is a graduate of the University of North Carolina. She worked for daily newspapers in D.C., North Carolina and Colorado, and has taught journalism and creative writing. She joined the Colorado Publishing House in 2017.