Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has finally unveiled the first draft of a landmark bill that would end the federal prohibition of cannabis once and for all.
Schumer initially announced that he was partnering with fellow Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) to propose a substantive cannabis reform bill back in February. Now, at long last, the lawmakers have released the full first draft of their legislation for public comment. This 163-page bill, officially titled the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, would federally deschedule cannabis, expunge former pot crimes, and do away with many cannabis-related federal penalties and restrictions.
“The War on Drugs has been a war on people — particularly people of color,” the senators said in the bill's summary, Marijuana Moment reports. “The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act aims to end the decades of harm inflicted on communities of color by removing cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances and empowering states to implement their own cannabis laws. Descheduling cannabis is a critical step towards achieving justice for those targeted and hard hit by the War on Drugs. But that alone is not enough.”
Most importantly, the bill would completely remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act. This act would not immediately make weed legal in the entire US, though. Individual states would still be allowed to keep prohibiting cannabis if they choose, but the feds would be blocked from interfering with states that have chosen to legalize. Federal law enforcement would no longer be able to bust people for weed-related crimes, unless they were in violation of state law.
Descheduling cannabis would immediately remove many of the excessive restrictions connected to the sale or use of controlled substances. Legal weed businesses would be able to open bank accounts, access loans, or list on the US stock market. The feds could no longer deny employment, public housing, or other assistance to cannabis users, and veterans would finally be able to receive medical marijuana from their doctors without risk of losing their benefits.
The bill also includes a sizable number of restorative justice and social equity measures. Federal courts would be required to automatically identify and expunge every non-violent weed offense, and anyone currently serving or facing time could apply to have their charges dropped. Several grant programs would also be established to help provide job training, reentry services, and other benefits for individuals most harmed by the War on Drugs. Grants would also be provided to help members of marginalized communities start their own legal weed businesses.
To fund these programs, the bill would apply a federal sales tax on all legal weed sales. This tax would sit at 10 percent for the first two years after the bill's passage, and then increase by 5 percent a year until it reached 25 percent. After 5 years, the feds would also kick in an extra per-weight tax on THC in each legal weed product. But to encourage small businesses, the proposal would make pot companies that make less than $20 million a year eligible for a 50 percent reduction in their tax rate.
If passed, the bill would transfer most of the regulatory authority over cannabis from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA would regulate the manufacture, marketing, and safety of cannabis products and packaging throughout the country. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) would be in charge of cracking down on anyone violating these new cannabis laws, and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) would take control of retail sales practices and tax revenue collection.
The senators are now hoping to collect feedback that will help them revise this mammoth proposal. Specifically, lawmakers want to hear opinions on best practices for federal testing and regulation of legal weed products, ways to help low-income individuals get involved in the industry, and ideas for coordinating federal and state law enforcement responsibilities for enforcing cannabis regulations. Anyone wishing to comment can send an email to [email protected] by September 1.
“Our main priority is to ensure that Americans who choose to responsibly consume cannabis are no longer discriminated against under the law,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal in a statement. “With one in eight Americans choosing to consume on a semi-regular basis, including nearly one in four veterans, we must end the practice of arresting over 500,000 Americans every year and denying countless others employment, housing, and other civic rights if we are truly to be the ‘Land of the Free’. The federal government can take great strides toward rectifying this situation by advancing the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act through the legislative process.”
Cannabis reform has drawn bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, so the bill actually does have some chance of passing if lawmakers can hash out the details before the 2022 midterm elections. Unfortunately, President Biden has suggested that he may oppose any substantive attempts at federal legalization, so it is unclear whether he would sign or veto this historic legislation.