Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and fellow Democrats in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday unveiled a much-anticipated draft proposal to legalize cannabis at the federal level. The proposal, which is a discussion draft of a bill titled the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, was introduced by Schumer and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden of Oregon and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker at a Capitol Hill press conference.
If the legislation is passed into law, marijuana would be removed from the nation’s list of regulated drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, and instead be regulated and taxed like alcohol and tobacco. The measure also includes social equity provisions that will expunge low-level marijuana convictions and dedicate cannabis taxes to communities negatively impacted by the War on Drugs.
“For decades, young men and young women, disproportionately young Black and Hispanic men and women, have been arrested and jailed for carrying even a small amount of marijuana in their pocket, a charge that often came with exorbitant penalties and a serious criminal record because of the overcriminalization of marijuana, and it followed them for the remainder of their lives,” Schumer told reporters.
Key Provisions of the Legislation
- Under the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, the U.S. Attorney General would be directed to remove marijuana from the list of drugs regulated under Controlled Substances Act within 60 days of the legislation’s effective date. Government regulators would also create a new definition of “cannabis” under the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act and develop a regulatory requirement for cannabis, similar to rules that govern other substances such as tobacco. The definition of cannabis would exclude hemp, which was legalized by the 2018 Farm Bill.
- The authority to regulate cannabis would be transferred from the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The FDA would be “recognized as the primary federal regulatory authority with respect to the manufacture and marketing of cannabis products, including requirements related to minimum national good manufacturing practice, product standards, registration and listing, and labeling information related to ingredients and directions for use,” according to a 30-page summary of the draft bill, which totals 163 pages.
- The bill also assesses a federal excise tax on cannabis products, with rates beginning at 10% and increasing to 25% five years after the measure is signed into law. Collecting taxes would be the responsibility of the TTB, with a portion of the revenue raised dedicated to supporting communities impacted by the War on Drugs. Federal judicial districts would be required to expunge the records of nonviolent federal cannabis offenders and those currently serving sentences for marijuana crimes would be eligible for a resentencing review hearing.
- The legislation establishes three grant programs, including one that would fund nonprofits to provide services including job training, reentry services, and legal aid to individuals impacted by cannabis prohibition. The second grant program provides funding to state and local governments to make Small Business Administration loans to cannabis businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs. The final grant program would provide funding for state and local governments to establish cannabis business licensing programs that minimize barriers for those impacted by the War on Drugs.
“For decades, our federal government has waged a War on Drugs that has unfairly impacted low-income communities and communities of color,” Booker said in a statement. “While red and blue states across the country continue to legalize marijuana, the federal government continues to lag woefully behind. It is time for Congress to end the federal marijuana prohibition and reinvest in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs.”
Although the bill would legalize cannabis at the federal level, states would make the decision on marijuana policy for their jurisdictions. Currently, 18 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for use by adults, and 37 have laws permitting the use of medical marijuana.
Proposal Receives Swift Response
Following the release of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act draft, which has been promised by Schumer for months, cannabis policy reform groups and representatives of the legal cannabis industry were quick to weigh in on the proposal. Erik Altieri, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said that the “days of federal prohibition are numbered.”
“These actions by Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Senators Booker and Wyden reflect the fact that the supermajority of Americans are demanding that Congress take action to end the cruel and senseless policy of federal prohibition,” Altieri said in a statement from the group. “It is time for legislators to comport federal law with the laws of the growing number of states that have legalized the plant, and it is time for lawmakers to facilitate a federal structure that allows for cannabis commerce so that responsible consumers can obtain high-quality, low-cost cannabis grown right here in America without fear of arrest and incarceration.”
Ben Kovler, CEO of cannabis multistate operator Green Thumb Industries, noted that the cannabis legalization bill recognizes cannabis as a legitimate business sector and would allow cannabis companies long-sought access to capital markets and banking services.
“Cannabis continues to be disproportionately weaponized against communities of color, and we are thrilled that the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act has proposed expungement and community reinvestment measures to address the damage perpetuated by the failed War on Drugs,” Kovler said in an email. “While the bill leaves some questions unanswered, we believe it provides a tangible pathway to true federal legalization.”
Schumer acknowledged to reporters that he does not yet have the support necessary for the bill to gain approval in the Senate, saying the proposal is intended to begin the conversation on marijuana legalization. In May, a new version of a separate cannabis legalization bill that was approved by the House of Representatives last year was reintroduced in the lower chamber of Congress.