Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) released a draft of their bill ending federal cannabis prohibition.
Their bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substance Act, thereby ending cannabis prohibition. That would end the unfair treatment of communities of color and empower states to implement their own cannabis laws.
Ending federal cannabis prohibition is becoming urgent as states legalize adult and medical use of cannabis. Although cannabis is illegal under federal law, most Americans live in a state where cannabis is legal in one form or another. In addition, more than 90 percent of Americans believe it should be legalized for either adult or medical use.
The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act bill introduced by the Senators would ensure that Americans will not be arrested or barred from receiving essential services for using state-legal cannabis. That would also ensure state-compliant cannabis businesses can access essential financial services.
The ending cannabis prohibition bill expunges federal non-violent cannabis crimes and allows individuals in federal prison for non-violent marijuana crimes to petition a court for resentencing. It will also establish a fund to reinvest in the communities hurt by the War on Drugs and provides restorative justice to communities of color.
“I am proud to introduce our discussion draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, a legislative proposal aimed at finally putting an end to the federal prohibition of cannabis and addressing the over-criminalization of cannabis in a comprehensive and meaningful way,” said Schumer.
“The War on Drugs has too often been a war on people, and particularly people of color. Not only will this legislation remove cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances, but it will also help fix our criminal justice system, ensure restorative justice, protect public health, and implement responsible taxes and regulations,” he added.
Ending federal cannabis prohibition has become urgent as states legalize the adult and medical use of cannabis. Adult-use cannabis is legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia. Thirty-seven states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have legalized medical cannabis.
“For decades, our federal government has waged a War on Drugs that has unfairly impacted low-income communities and communities of color,” said Booker. “While red and blue states across the country continue to legalize marijuana, the federal government continues to lag woefully behind.
These changes represent a dynamic shift in public opinion and support across the political spectrum.
“It is time for Congress to end the federal marijuana prohibition and reinvest in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs. I am proud to introduce this landmark piece of legislation with Senator Wyden and Majority Leader Schumer that will finally turn the page on this dark chapter in American history,” Booker added.
By ending the failed federal cannabis prohibition, the bill will ensure Hispanics and Blacks no longer fear arrest, being barred from public housing, and losing college aid.
Under the bill, state-compliant cannabis businesses will be treated like other businesses and allowed access to essential financial services, like bank accounts and loans. Medical research will no longer be stifled.
“Cannabis prohibition, a key pillar of the failed War on Drugs, has caused substantial harm to our communities and small businesses, and especially for communities of color,” said Wyden. “Senators Booker, Schumer, and I want to bring common sense to the federal government.”
Ending Federal Cannabis Prohibition
The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act automatically expunges federal non-violent cannabis crimes and allows individuals serving time in federal prison for non-violent cannabis crimes to petition a court for resentencing.
The legislation also creates an “Opportunity Trust Fund” funded by a federal cannabis tax revenue to reinvest in the communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs.
It will also help to level the playing field for entrepreneurs of color who face barriers to access to the industry.
The legislation also ends discrimination in federal public benefits for medical cannabis patients and adult-use consumers.
Responsibility for regulating cannabis on the federal level will be moved from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to protect public health. Additionally, revenue generated by federal taxes will support restorative justice and public health research.
However, only a draft outline has been released. The Senators will continue working on the formal bill. They want comments from stakeholders, social and criminal justice advocates, industry stakeholders, health officials, cops, members of Congress, federal officials, state and local officials.
Reflecting on Changing Federal Cannabis Laws
“This is the first time that the leadership of the upper chamber has championed a bill to end federal cannabis prohibition, and the fact that it is being done in such a thoughtful and proactive manner engages stakeholders and includes robust social justice, and regulatory language is revolutionary,” said Aaron Smith, co-founder, and chief executive officer of the National Cannabis Industry Association.
Booker noted he would oppose any consideration of incremental measures that would provide safe harbor for financial institutions like the SAFE Banking Act, which many are promoting It passed the House of Representatives in time for 4/20 but social justice advocates are unhappy that it does nothing to address criminal justice issues.
“We absolutely share Senator Booker’s desire to enact comprehensive reform as soon as possible,” Smith said.
“The days of federal prohibition are numbered,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri. “It is time for legislators to comport federal law with the laws of the growing number of states that have legalized the plant.”
President Joe Biden, a long-time supporter of cannabis prohibition, doesn’t support their effort which will make it especially difficult to pass.