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Senate Democrats Introduce Long-Awaited Cannabis Legalization Bill

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Senate Democrats Introduce Long-Awaited Cannabis Legalization Bill

Senate Majority Chuck Schumer of New York and two of his colleagues have introduced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, a bill that legalizes marijuana at the federal level.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and two of his Democratic colleagues introduced a federal cannabis legalization bill last week, a little more than a year after the lawmakers released a discussion draft of the legislation. The bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, was introduced on July 21 by New York’s Schumer, Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden of Oregon and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

“As more states legalize cannabis and work towards reversing the many injustices the failed War on Drugs levied against Black, Brown and low-income people, the federal government continues to lag woefully behind,” Booker said in a statement about the legislation. “With strong restorative justice provisions for communities impacted by the drug war, support for small cannabis businesses and expungement of federal cannabis offenses, this bill reflects long overdue, common sense drug policy. I’m proud to have partnered with Senators Schumer and Wyden to introduce this critical legislation. The support that we’ve received from committee chairs and outside groups underscores the historic nature of this bill and the urgent need for Congress to pass it.”

Legislation Removes Cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act

The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and allow the states to decide on legalizing cannabis outright. The legislation would also levy a tax on cannabis sales, expunge records of past federal marijuana convictions and allow federal prisoners serving time for nonviolent cannabis convictions to petition for resentencing. The cannabis legalization bill also establishes a national regulatory framework to protect public health and safety, prioritizes restorative and economic justice to help address the negative impacts of the War on Drugs, ends discrimination in the granting of federal benefits based on cannabis use, strengthens worker protections and provides significant investments in cannabis research.

Schumer said that the cannabis prohibition and the War on Drugs have been “a war on people, and particularly people of color,” referring to the profound disparity in the enforcement of the nation’s marijuana laws. In 2020, a report from the American Civil Liberties Union found that Black people are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for a cannabis offense, despite roughly equal rates of use.

“The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act will be a catalyst for change by removing cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances, protecting public health and safety and expunging the criminal records of those with low-level cannabis offenses, providing millions with a new lease on life,” said Schumer. “A majority of Americans now support legalizing cannabis, and Congress must act by working to end decades of over-criminalization. It is time to end the federal prohibition on cannabis.”

Early Draft of Bill Released Last Year

The CAOA was first released in draft form by the Democratic Senate trio on July 14, 2021. The lawmakers also sought public input on the proposed cannabis legalization bill, receiving approximately 1,800 comments on its provisions from stakeholders across the US. After reviewing the submitted suggestions on working on the legislation in several Senate committees, Schumer, Booker and Wyden revised the discussion draft to produce the bill introduced by the senators last week. A summary of the revised bill and an 11-page summary of the revisions to the CAOA discussion draft has been posted online.

Reaction to the cannabis legalization bill from representatives of the legal marijuana industry was upbeat. Troy Datcher, CEO of multistate cannabis operator The Parent Company, said that the introduction of the legislation “marks the beginning of a new direction after nearly a century of the failed policy of cannabis prohibition in the United States.”

“In the coming weeks, we look forward to a robust debate on The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act and will be watching closely to see whether the bill appears likely to obtain the support necessary for passage in the Senate,” Datcher wrote in an email to Cannabis Now. “While engaged in this important and necessary debate about the best policy framework for cannabis legalization, we urge the Senate to not lose sight of those reforms that have broad bipartisan support, such as the SAFE Banking Act, expungement of cannabis convictions and efforts to lower the barriers to entry for minority cannabis operators.”

Schumer noted that introducing the bill is only the “beginning of the legislative process” and that the senators would now work to gain support from both Democratic and GOP lawmakers. The cannabis legalization bill faces stiff opposition from several Republican senators and some moderate Democrats, making gaining approval in the body unsure at best. Nevertheless, the CAOA marks continued progress on cannabis policy reform at the federal level.

“I’m proud to be the first [US Senate] Majority Leader ever to say that it’s time to end the federal prohibition on cannabis, and this bill provides the best framework for updating our cannabis laws and reversing decades of harm inflicted by the war on drugs,” Schumer said on the Senate floor on Thursday.

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