Hickenlooper Sends Up PREPARE Act

Hickenlooper Sends Up PREPARE Act

Senator files legislation to get the country ready for cannabis legalization.



This past Thursday, Senator John Hickenlooper (D-CO) filed a previously announced bill to lay the foundational groundwork for the end of the federal prohibition of marijuana in the United States, according to multiple news outlets.


The filing closely coincided with the tenth anniversary of Hickenlooper’s home state of Colorado becoming the first U.S. state to legalize adult-use cannabis. At the time, he was the state’s governor and actually opposed the measure. Since that time, however, he has become one of its most vocal supporters and a national marijuana legalization advocate.


The Preparing Regulators Effectively for a Post-Prohibition Adult-Use Regulated Environment Act (PREPARE) Act would charge the Attorney General with creating a commission to make recommendations on a potential regulatory system for cannabis that would model the current one used for alcohol.


In a press release, Hickenlooper stated, “A decade after Colorado pioneered marijuana legalization, Americans overwhelmingly support the same at the federal level. This bipartisan, bicameral framework, based on Colorado’s Amendment 64 Task Force, will replicate our success nationally.”


"A decade after Colorado pioneered marijuana legalization, Americans overwhelmingly support the same at the federal level. This bipartisan, bicameral framework, based on Colorado’s Amendment 64 Task Force, will replicate our success nationally.”

- Senator John Hickenlooper (D-CO)


The Senate bill fostered by Hickenlooper is identical to one submitted in the House by Reps. Dave Joyce (R-OH), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Brian Mast (R-FL) in April. That measure was sponsored by the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation (CPEAR), whose membership includes tobacco and alcohol titans Altria Client Services and Molson Coors Beverage Company.


CPEAR’s involvement in the marijuana reform legislative process, particularly concerning establishing the PREPARE Act commission, has caused some activists to pause and voice warranted critique of their inclusion at this critical foundational moment. For many, the thought of having a cannabis regulatory system that mirrors the alcohol industry is misguided. In their opinion, alcohol and marijuana are not comparable products and should not be categorized as such.


In a recent op-ed piece, one of those outspoken critics, Shaleen Title, Founder and Director of the Parabola Center for Law and Policy, shared, “Why would Congress instruct a commission of experts to create a framework for the cannabis plant just like alcohol? Isn’t the point of such a commission to examine the plant and consider possible frameworks—and related data—to decide what fits? It was perhaps a useful analogy a decade ago to remind people what a regulated substance looks like, but today it’s worth noting that cannabis is not alcohol, or tobacco, or a pharmaceutical, and it should not be regulated identically to any other product.”


"Why would Congress instruct a commission of experts to create a framework for the cannabis plant just like alcohol? Isn’t the point of such a commission to examine the plant and consider possible frameworks—and related data—to decide what fits? It was perhaps a useful analogy a decade ago to remind people what a regulated substance looks like, but today it’s worth noting that cannabis is not alcohol, or tobacco, or a pharmaceutical, and it should not be regulated identically to any other product.”

- Shaleen Title, Founder and Director of the Parabola Center for Law and Policy


Despite the substantial reservations of many marijuana reform advocates, the PREPARE Act is, nonetheless, a positive, if still frustratingly incremental, step in the right direction. The formation of a diverse and dedicated panel of experts and interested parties should go a long way in paving the way for a meaningful and impactful dialogue on what a nationwide system of marijuana growers, product manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers should look like and function.


As Justin Strekal, founder of the Better Organizing to Win Legalization (BOWL), said, “(It’s) critical that Congress thoughtfully prepare to regulate the rapidly growing legal consumer marketplace. How to properly and efficiently address labeling, advertising, licensing, public health concerns, and other post-prohibition regulatory aspects are crucial components that have yet to be addressed in a bipartisan way, and the PREPARE Act can be the vehicle to do just that.”


"(It’s) critical that Congress thoughtfully prepare to regulate the rapidly growing legal consumer marketplace. How to properly and efficiently address labeling, advertising, licensing, public health concerns, and other post-prohibition regulatory aspects are crucial components that have yet to be addressed in a bipartisan way, and the PREPARE Act can be the vehicle to do just that.”

- Justin Strekal, Founder, Better Organizing to Win Legalization (BOWL)


However, the influence of Big Tobacco and Alcohol on establishing regulated marijuana markets is something for lawmakers, regulators and activists to keep a keen eye on moving forward.


Their dark track record and the economic, public health and societal carnage left in the wake of decades of unchecked power and predatory profit-seeking are not a model worth emulating, especially for a plant whose supporters have fought so hard to bring it out of the darkness of prohibition and into the light of legalization and ultimate celebration.