Several of the country's top Democratic leaders are planning to unveil a new federal cannabis reform bill that will specifically prevent big tobacco and alcohol firms from overtaking the legal weed industry.
Two months ago, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced that he was working with Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) to draft a comprehensive new bill to put a final end to the federal prohibition of cannabis. The full details of this bill have yet to be released, but the three lawmakers recently held a brief conference to preview a few of the bill's most important provisions.
“This is not a war on drugs, it’s a war on people—and certain people,” said Sen. Booker, a longtime advocate of legalization, Marijuana Moment reports. “Veterans are disproportionately arrested for possession of marijuana; low-income people disproportionately arrested; people with mental health challenges disproportionately arrested, and of course... black and brown communities are targeted.”
“It’s not just about creating an environment where states are legalizing, it’s about restorative justice, and that’s a number of things,” the senator continued. “That’s, one, making sure that we expunge records. Don’t talk about free adult use of marijuana without talking about expunging records. Number two, the tax money—this is going to be a multibillion-dollar business. Those tax receipts should be reinvested in those communities.”
Social justice is a key factor inspiring lawmakers to finally take on the task of cannabis reform after decades of prohibition. In the meeting, the senators explained that their new legalization bill will include provisions to help small businesses gain a foothold in this highly lucrative new market, rather than allowing it to be dominated by vast corporate interests.
Just last week, British American Tobacco, the world's third-largest tobacco company, invested over $175 million in a Canadian weed company. In 2018, Altria, an even bigger cigarette conglomerate, spent $1.8 billion to buy a major stake in another Canadian weed giant. That same year, Constellation Brands, owner of Corona beer and other alcohol brands, invested another $4 billion into Canada's legal pot market.
Federal law currently makes it difficult for these massive corporations to directly invest in state-legal pot operations in the US, but federal weed legalization could remove these restrictions, potentially allowing big alcohol or tobacco to dominate the newly-legal weed industry. The lawmakers supporting this new bill want to ensure that this does not happen, though.
“We don’t want the big tobacco companies and the big liquor companies to swoop in and take over,” said Schumer, according to Marijuana Moment. “The legislation we have will make sure that smaller businesses, businesses in communities of color, get the advantage because communities of color have paid the price for decades. They should at least get something back.”
Each of these three senators has already drafted their own unique take on cannabis reform legislation before. Booker introduced the Marijuana Justice Act in 2017, Schumer proposed the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act on 4/20 last year, and Wyden also wrote his own bill, but never introduced it. And last year, the House of Representatives passed the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, another bill to federally legalize pot.
The senators are hoping to roll all the best aspects of these separate bills into one final piece of legislation that has a chance of being signed into law. Lawmakers are still finalizing the bill, but Schumer said that he expects it will be filed “shortly.” The Senate has formerly shot down every weed reform bill that came before it, but under the new Democratic leadership, this new proposal could become the first legalization bill to ever be debated in Congress' higher chamber.
“Millions of Americans now, like the folks I have the honor to represent, have gone to the polls, and they have said that they agree with Senator Schumer and Booker and I,” said Sen. Wyden, according to Marijuana Moment. “I don’t think they’re going to accept any more dawdling from the federal government. It’s kind of like the federal government has been in a time warp. We’ve got a real shot now at making progress.”