Senators Unveil Draft Legalization Bill

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Illustration: lightsource / Depositphotos

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senate Democrats led by Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday unveiled a draft bill that would legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis at the federal level.

Authored by Schumer, Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, released as a “discussion draft” and not a formally introduced bill, proposes removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act altogether, not merely reclassifying the substance in a less-restrictive category. The proposal also calls for immediate expungement of non-violent cannabis-related federal criminal records and earmarking new tax revenues for social justice efforts in communities most impacted by the drug war.


Although Booker said the discussion draft aims to “finally turn the page on this dark chapter in American history and begin righting these wrongs” and Wyden serves as chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, legislation is unlikely to see action in the Senate anytime soon. Most Republicans staunchly oppose almost any measure introduced by their colleagues across the aisle, and even Democrats harbor reservations about abandoning prohibition due to lingering stereotypes and stigma. However, legislators across the spectrum undoubtedly realize legalization is a popular issue with voters, 68 percent of whom support federal action according to a November 2020 Gallup poll.

The cannabis industry and advocates hailed the discussion draft as a significant milestone in the quest for legitimacy and a sign prohibition’s days are numbered.

“We view this historic bill as an essential step toward righting decades of inequitable wrongs,” said Steve Hawkins, chief executive officer for the U.S. Cannabis Council and executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “We implore Congress to consider the importance of this moment. In looking at the eight states that have legalized cannabis since the election last November, it’s clear that ending federal cannabis prohibition is the will of the American people. We should no longer delay.”

Resource Innovation Institute Executive Director Derek Smith said, “This is a strong first step in long-awaited, sensible federal regulation and a hopeful milestone toward broader national restorative justice efforts.”

According to Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce President Rezwan Khan, “Leader Schumer is doing exactly that: leading the way for a better path forward for the millions of Americans — from consumers to employees and businesses — affected by cannabis prohibition. The time for members of the House and Senate to end prohibition is this Congress.”

Some remarked, again, about federal legalization’s potential impact on commerce.

“The introduction of legislation that would federally decriminalize cannabis would have implications far beyond banking,” said Wana Brands founder and CEO Nancy Whiteman. “For starters, it will expand the opportunities for minority populations that have been disproportionately targeted during the War on Drugs. Federal decriminalization would also enable manufacturing and then shipping across state lines. Supply chains will become more efficient and cost-effective, as plants would be grown in appropriate outdoor climates and other materials could be sourced across markets.”

Leaf Trade Chief Revenue Officer Michael Piermont remarked, “The general public and a consensus of health experts have long agreed cannabis is not the harmful substance as it is currently defined by the decades-long war on drugs. Now, with the introduction of this legislation, we finally will have a chance to see more scientific research into cannabis, more investment opportunities for legal businesses operating in the industry, and — perhaps most importantly — criminal reform that will no longer disproportionately discriminate against people of color.”

Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis, and nineteen have legalized recreational use. The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act would free individuals and businesses from the fear of federal prosecution for possession, use, and sale although states would be allowed to establish their own rules

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