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June 14, 2022

Could the EQUAL Act get passed as part of some kind of "omnibus" federal marijuana reform bill?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting Marijuana Moment article headlined "New Details On Congressional Marijuana Omnibus Bill Emerge As Lawmakers Work For 60 Senate Votes."  Here are some of the intriguing particulars from an extended piece worth reading in full:

Two key congressmen made waves in the marijuana community on Thursday by disclosing that there are high-level talks underway about putting together a wide-ranging package of incremental marijuana proposals that House and Senate lawmakers believe could be enacted into law this year.  But multiple sources tell Marijuana Moment that issues under consideration go further than the banking and expungements reforms that were at the center of the public discussion that has emerged.

The dueling pushes for comprehensive legalization and incremental reform — a source of tension among advocates, lawmakers and industry insiders over many months — may actually result in something actionable and bipartisan by the end of the current Congress, those familiar with the bicameral negotiations say.  That said, no deal is set in stone and talks are ongoing.

In addition to the banking and expungements proposals that made waves when discussed publicly at a conference on Thursday by two key House lawmakers, there are also talks about attaching language from other standalone bills dealing with issues such as veterans’ medical cannabis access, research expansion, marijuana industry access to Small Business Administration (SBA) programs and broader drug sentencing reform....

Interestingly enough, a non-marijuana item might also be part of the deal in the works: the EQUAL Act to end the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, which experts say has exacerbated racial disparities in the criminal justice system. That legislation has passed the House in standalone form and has substantial bipartisan support in the Senate. “These talks are very serious,” a source involved in criminal justice reform said. “I would say this is one of the most serious bipartisan, bicameral conversations that we’ve seen occur in our time in this space.”

Given that I am not especially bullish on the likelihood that significant marijuana reform making it through the current Congress, I am not especially keen on the idea of tethering crack sentencing reform to marijuana reform.  But, given that the EQUAL Act seems to be stalled in the Senate (despite more than 10 GOP co-sponsors), maybe this new marijuana talk is good news for the prospects of sentencing reform.  Notably, this recent Hill commentary by Marc Levin, headlined "Bipartisan drug sentencing reform isn’t a pipe dream," argues that the EQUAL Act could still "receive a rare bipartisan embrace."  Whether with a side of weed or on its own, I sure hope the EQUAL Act gets to the desk of the President as soon as possible.

A few of many prior posts on the EQUAL Act:

June 14, 2022 at 06:28 AM | Permalink


Unsourced speculation planted by advocates in order to make it appear that their side has momentum. Is there an older game in this town?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 14, 2022 8:53:29 AM

I do not get to go to all those inside-the-Beltway cocktail parties that you attend, Bill, so I do not know about all the ins and outs of all "games" that you DC elites play.

Posted by: Doug B | Jun 14, 2022 9:28:53 AM

I'm just a hayseed from UNC with my feet up on the cracker barrel.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 14, 2022 10:47:40 AM

I hope that's what is going on with all the pieces I've seen about student debt forgiveness.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jun 14, 2022 9:45:52 PM


Student loan forgiveness is immoral.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jun 15, 2022 10:10:03 AM

Not a big fan of Luke 6:35, Tarls?: "But love ye your enemies, and do good, AND LEND, HOPING FOR NOTHING AGAIN; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest."

I am just trolling, of course, though I think it interesting to wonder if the "hot" new conservative constitutional philosophy, so-called "common good constitutionalism," would support debt forgiveness. Prof Adrian Vermule describe the philosophy as being "based on the principles that government helps direct persons, associations, and society generally toward the common good, and that strong rule in the interest of attaining the common good is entirely legitimate." Many might debate whether debt forgiveness promotes the common good in this context, but there can sure be biblical roots.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jun 15, 2022 12:08:30 PM

There are no biblical roots as Luke 6:35 is not referring to the government. Just as the command to help the poor and widows does not mean, “Give it to the government and let them decide where it goes.”

Student debt forgiveness is a money transfer from the poorest to the richest. It used to be that you liberals cared about the poor. You now want them to pay for the educations of those who will make hundreds of thousands of dollars (at the minimum) more than they will over the course of a lifetime.

That McDonald’s worker or electrician should not have to pay for your students’ law school.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jun 15, 2022 1:39:19 PM

I am quite confident, Tarls, that you do not know my view on student loan debt relief (and I am quite confident that it is not whatever you think is the "liberal" position). But I am trying to understand your views, not express mine. Are you asserting that any "money transfer from the poorest to the richest" is "immoral" or is there some particular aspect of this in the student loan context that you think makes this immoral.

Of course, we are far from sentencing, here, though reform advocates often express concern that many criminal justice fines and fees --- and especially prison fees --- often amount to a "money transfer from the poorest to the richest."

Posted by: Doug B. | Jun 15, 2022 1:55:03 PM

Criminal justice crimes and fees are not analogous.

College graduates made a decision that put them in debt.

Criminals made a decision that put them in debt.

The decision an electrician or fast food employee made did not put them in debt (trade school is a small fraction of college tuition). Those who chose a good major can pay their own debt. Those who did not should have to pay for their own useless “Womynz Studies” diploma with their barista job.

If they want their money back, at least go to the ones who are part of the machine that helped them get in debt. For example, the overpaid and underworked college administrators and law school professors. I’d still disagree but there is at least a connection.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jun 15, 2022 7:13:55 PM

Your concerns are all reasonable as a general matter, Tarls, but the particulars are important (both for student debt and criminal debt).

It is widely reported that folks graduating from 2-year trade schools amass on average around $10,000 in debt. Do you think it immoral for this debt to be forgiven? (Press reports say that Prez Biden is talking about that level of forgiveness.) Also, where does interest on student debt fit into your morality calculus? Have you considered the payment/interest freeze over the last two years immoral?

Meanwhile, some jails and prisons still charge inmates at extraordinary rates for simple phone calls (some as much as $20/hour) when these calls cost the government nothing. It is one thing to expect an offender to pay for the cost of his crimes; it is something entirely different to expect him to pay hundred of dollars per month just to keep in touch with family members. Some fines and fees imposed by the CJ system can be quite moral --- I am generally a fan of some of the day fine approaches adopted in some European nations --- but I think some can be quite immoral.

That all said, I do generally agree with your apparent sentiment that higher education generally costs too much and that it has long been far too easy for far too many people to finance far too much schooling with far too much debt.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jun 15, 2022 10:06:15 PM

This one is real easy. When you borrow money promising to pay it back, keep your promise and pay it back. If you think there's any chance you're going to have difficulty doing that, talk it over at the outset with the lender. If the two of you can't agree on terms, don't take out the loan. If you do agree on terms, keep them.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 15, 2022 10:24:08 PM


1. No forgiveness for trade schools either.
2. I’m not for the payment/interest freeze either, but can at least see the point. However, it is contributing to the red hot inflation that hurts who the most? Yep, the poor.
3. You are in prison. This isn’t high school where you get to lay in bed and talk to your girlfriend hours on end for free every night. Just as in real life, if an inmate can afford it, so be it. If not, so be it. I’d love a Mercedes SUV but drive a Jeep.
4. Those phone calls do cost the prison money. Generally, those calls are monitored by prison staff who do not work for free.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jun 16, 2022 10:10:00 AM

I got myself thru Vanderbilt University (B.A. 1984) and U. Va. Law School (J.D. 1987) without help from my parents. I paid off my $37,000 of student loans in 7 years, which was 3 years early. People need to be personally responsible and pay off their student loans.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Jun 20, 2022 3:20:47 PM

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