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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is finally making headway on his long-awaited federal weed legalization bill, according to cannabis advocates who attended an online meeting with him last week.
Schumer joined the meeting to discuss social equity concerns raised by several advocacy groups, including the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC), Immigrant Defense Project, Women Grow, VOCAL-NY and Rochester NORML. At the brief meeting, the Senate leader reassured advocates that the final draft of his comprehensive new bill was finally nearing completion.
The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), which Schumer is sponsoring with fellow Senators Cory Booker and Ron Wyden, would completely remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act. This act of law would allow individual states to legalize or prohibit cannabis as they see fit, and would prevent the feds from interfering with any state that chooses the smarter of those two options.
Last summer, the Senate leaders released the first draft of the CAOA to solicit public commentary before moving forward. And although the bill includes a sizable number of restorative justice and social equity measures, activists have weighed in on a number of options that would make the legislation even more fair. At last week's meeting, Schumer sat down to discuss some of these suggestions.
The full details of the conversation have not been made public, but most of the attendees seemed confident that the bill would address their concerns. DPA director of national affairs Maritza Perez told Marijuana Moment that the senator clearly “understands that social equity must be intentional and a key part of any marijuana bill that moves forward in Congress.” Perez added that the DPA “looks forward to continuing to work with his office on a comprehensive marijuana bill that provides restitution to people and communities most devastated by marijuana prohibition.”
“Sen. Schumer has consistently stood with small and minority-owned businesses,” said Shaleen Title, vice chair of the CRCC and former commissioner of Massachusetts' cannabis regulatory agency, to Marijuana Moment. Title added that she was “glad to share hard-earned lessons for how Congress can ensure that the communities most impacted by the war on drugs are set up for success” during the meeting.
“CRCC believes that any cannabis reform bill that moves forward should be centered in equity and justice, beginning with dismantling the drug war, repairing its impact, and preventing monopolies and oligopolies,” she continued. “We made suggestions based on our experience as state regulators, including stressing the importance of access to capital as well as enforcement and watchdog-like tools to ensure equity measures are implemented as intended.”
Even though Schumer is fighting for this landmark legalization bill, his actions as leader of the Senate have pissed off many cannabis advocates. Last fall, the House of Representatives amended the federal defense budget bill to include banking protections for state-legal cannabis businesses. The Senate leader argued that Congress needs to favor a comprehensive cannabis reform solution over minor policy changes, though, and convinced Congress to kill the House banking amendment.
At the meeting, Schumer did concede that he would consider a cannabis banking bill if it were revised to include social equity measures. These measures, which are being championed by CRCC chair Dasheeda Dawson, include creating federal incentives for minority deposit institutions or community development facilities that could lend capital to minority-owned cannabis startups.
In addition to advancing the cannabis banking amendment, the House also passed their own federal legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, in 2019. House Republicans are even getting in on the game with their own (somewhat more limited) cannabis reform bill. But even though Congress and the American public are finally down with federal legalization, President Biden has said that he isn't down with any of these proposals.