Summary of Senate’s Hearing “Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms”

On July 26, 2022, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Terrorism held a hearing on “Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms.” The hearing largely addressed the recently introduced S. 4591, “Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act” (the “CAOA”).


The witnesses included:

  • Malik Burnett, Medical Director, Maryland Department of Health’s Center for Harm Reduction Services (testimony)
  • Edward Jackson, Chief of the Annapolis Police Department (testimony)
  • Weldon Angelos, President And Co-Founder at The Weldon Project (testimony)
  • Steven H. Cook, Former Associate Deputy Attorney General (testimony)
  • Alex Berenson, Author and former New York Times Reporter (testimony)


The hearing focused mostly on topics not relevant to the food, drug, and agriculture industry (i.e., criminal justice reform and impact on communities of color).  The topics that may be of interest to businesses regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are detailed below.


Increasing Cannabis Health Research

Several senators noted the need to federally legalize cannabis to allow for more research and voiced support for such provisions in CAOA. Possible topics of research discussed in the hearing include evaluating cannabis health claims; the impact of cannabis on mental health, including for veterans with PTSD; and developing road-side tests to identify drivers under the influence of cannabis.


Prohibiting Cannabis Marketing to Children

Marketing of cannabis products to children, particularly thorough product packaging, was brought up as a concern. Senators and witnesses both agreed that cannabis companies should not be allowed to market products in a way that is appealing to children (i.e., using cartoon characters, etc.), but did not elaborate further.


Regulation of Cannabis Health Claims

In addition to researching health claims, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) expressed support for better regulation of cannabis products’ health claims to ensure such claims are verified by the FDA.


The SAFE Banking Act

There was some debate as to whether the SAFE Banking Act is necessary to provide institutions selling cannabis access to federal banking services. The CAOA eliminates the need for the SAFE Banking Act by removing cannabis from the schedule of the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) and therefore no longer automatically deeming cannabis-related transactions and services as unlawful activity.  Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) expressed that there is no need for the CAOA or the SAFE Banking Act to address this issue given that several banks already serve institutions that sell cannabis.


Other Topics

Other matters discussed in the hearing included:

  • Increasing research into the long-term effects of cannabis legalization, particularly on cannabis use in children and occurrences of violent or non-violent crime.
  • Increasing support for minority-owned businesses in the cannabis market.
  • Expungement of non-violent cannabis offenses, including reassessing incarcerated people who took plea deals
  • Reassessing federal law regarding prohibited cannabis possession, including possession of large or small quantities of cannabis.
  • The impact of cannabis prohibition on the justice system’s resources.


The OFW Blog has covered several other cannabis matters, including the introduction of CAOA and its comparison to the States’ Reform Act introduced by Rep. Mace. For more information about the issues as discussed in the hearing, the CAOA, or more on federal cannabis reform, please contact OFW Law.


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