After months of speculation about its contents, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has released the first draft of his long-anticipated Senate bill to legalize cannabis. The measure, co-authored with Senator Cory Booker and Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, is titled the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, weighing in at a hefty 163 pages.
As expected, the main points of the proposed legislation are to federally deschedule cannabis, expunge prior non-violent convictions, allow people to petition for resentencing, and allow states to set their own policies on cannabis legalization. Public comments are now being taken through September 1st.
In the Capitol news conference announcing the bill, Schumer said “It’s not just an idea whose time has come; it’s long overdue, We have all seen the agony of a young person arrested with a small amount of marijuana in his or her pocket. And because of the historical over-criminalization of marijuana, they have a very severe criminal record they have to live with their whole lives.” Schumer said he would “use my clout as majority leader to make this a priority in the Senate.”
Other proposals in the bill would impose a federal tax on cannabis, similar to alcohol and tobacco, that could be as high as 25 percent. This revenue would be funneled back into the communities most affected by previous policies and where residents want to participate in the “gold rush” of opportunity.
Regulatory authority over cannabis would be transferred from the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Food and Drug Administration and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The FDA would be the primary authority on cannabis manufacture, standards, labeling and marketing. The TTB would have jurisdiction over tax revenue collection, tax law enforcement, and the tracking of cannabis products. This would also allow cannabis companies operating in states that have passed legalization to gain access to the U.S. banking system and claim federal tax deductions for business expenses.
The bill would establish three grant programs, require the Government Accounting Office to launch new studies into cannabis policy, and require the Department of Health and Human Services to work with the National Institutes of Health on cannabis research. It would also create a federal standard that only those 21 and older could purchase recreational cannabis.
All things considered, the bill has a lot that is industry-friendly, yet faces a tough road toward passage in the Sente. Support from at least 10 Republican senators would be needed, yet it is not even a given that all Democrats will be supporters. What’s more, although President Biden supports decriminalization, he has not so far indicated he would back all of the bill’s provisions. So as with other legislation that has been introduced in Congress but never made it to the voting stage, this bill is by no means a slam dunk and we’ll keep you informed in future issues whether or not it moves forward.