Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), along with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), on Thursday introduced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act. The legislation repeals the federal criminal prohibition of marijuana and defers to states’ Cannabis policies, reports NORML. It also tries to help repair the harms associated with the racially and economically disparate enforcement of pot prohibition.
“The official introduction of this bill to finally end the policy nightmare of federal marijuana prohibition is the culmination of unprecedented leadership in the Senate and engagement with stakeholders across the political spectrum,” said NORML Political Director Morgan Fox. “We look forward to working with lawmakers to move this legislation toward passage.”
“These conversations and hearings are long overdue,” Fox said. ”The vast majority of Americans support comprehensive cannabis policy reform.”
It Removes Marijuana From The Controlled Substances Act
The legislation removes marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act schedule entirely. That would end any threat of federal prosecution for possession and licensed commercial activity. And it allows states to implement their own cannabis policies free of federal interference.
It also eliminates many problems facing regulated state Cannabis markets. These include lack of access to financial services, and the inability to deduct standard business expenses when filing federal taxes. The bill also directs funding to reinvest in communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition. It helps improve diversity and inclusion in regulated marijuana markets.
Democrats published the initial draft language for this bill in June 2021. At that time, NORML submitted extensive comments and recommendations. In the intervening months, advocates worked with Senate leadership to revise the legislation and improve its chances of passage.
Justice For Those Previously Wronged By Prohibition
NORML’s initial feedback called for strengthening civic protections. These include criminal record expungement to provide relief to those previously wronged by federal marijuana prohibition. The organization also recommended revising outdated employment policies regarding unscientific testing for trace metabolic elements of THC.
The group also wanted small, local businesses to be enabled compete with larger corporations and the untaxed market by reducing regulatory and tax burdens.
State-legal businesses could get checking accounts, credit cards and other financial services now denied to them.
Expungement Of Federal Marijuana Convictions
The bill would expunge federal cannabis convictions and encourage states to follow suit, rports NJ.com. It would require the FDA to set health, safety and labeling standards and encourage research into the herb.
The bill would also impose a federal excise tax of 5% to 12.5% for smaller businesses, and 10% to 25% for larger companies.
It would direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to address drugged driving, requiring a standard for weed-impaired driving within three years.
“Common Sense Drug Policy”
“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,” said Sen. Cory Booker, one of the bill’s sponsors along with Schumer and Finance Chair Wyden.
“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,” Booker said.
Federal law would still prevent using or selling marijuana in states that haven’t legalized the herb. The Department of Justice would provide grants to help small law enforcement departments hire officers, investigators and community outreach specialists to combat untaxed sales.
Weed Regulated Similarly To Alcohol And Tobacco
Those harmed by the “War On Drugs” would gain access to financing to enter the marijuana business. And those who use weed wouldn’t face the loss of federal benefits such as housing or student loans. The bill limits Cannabis testing for federal workers to employees in areas such as national security, law enforcement, and commercial transportation.
The FDA and the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau would take over jurisdiction over marijuana from the Drug Enforcement Agency. These agencies would regulate it similarly to alcohol and tobacco. Legal Cannabis businesses would be able to deduct their business expenses like other companies.
Federal taxes would go toward aiding communities and individuals hardest hit by prohibition. This aid includes grants to community-based organizations to offer job training, legal aid, mentoring and literacy programs. Loans would be made directly to small businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, and to lenders who would make those loans.
Federal research into the medical properties of marijuana would be increased. This includes offering grants to develop research facilities and universities, especially minority-serving institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
More Than A Year In The Making
The bill was more than year in the making as Democrats took control of the Senate. Schumer vowed to introduce legislation with the hope it would attract the 60 votes needed for passage in the chamber.
That would require at least 10 Republicans, along with every Democrat. Many GOP senators now hail from states that have legalized marijuana for either medical or adult use.
“The introduction of comprehensive cannabis reform legislation in the Senate, by none less than the majority leader himself, is the strongest sign yet that cannabis prohibition in America is nearing its end,” said Steve Hawkins, chief executive of the U.S. Cannabis Council.
“A majority of Americans now support legalizing cannabis, and Congress must act by working to end decades of over-criminalization,” Schumer said. “It is time to end the federal prohibition on cannabis.”
House Already Voted Twice To Legalize
The House twice has passed legislation to end the federal ban on marijuana and help communities and individuals hardest hit by its prohibition. But until now, the Senate has refused.
In addition, the Senate never has taken any incremental steps such as the Secure and Fair Enforcement, or SAFE, Banking Act. The chamber even forced it out of unrelated bills House Democrats succeeded in adding it to.
Senator Booker has objected to passing SAFE Banking on its own. He said the monied interests pushing for that bill would lose their interest in also championing restorative justice issues once their money is protected.