On Wednesday, a draft bill was released to end America’s federal cannabis prohibition and remove “marijuana” from the Controlled Substances Act. The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is titled the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act and was introduced as a discussion draft intended to foster debate among the members of Congress. The official purpose of the bill is “to decriminalize and deschedule cannabis, to provide for reinvestment in certain persons adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, to provide for expungement of certain cannabis offenses, and for other purposes.”
The bill specifies that states will still be able to continue making their own laws regarding marijuana, just like with alcohol. The bill would also allow cannabis companies in the United States to apply for loans and to list on stock exchanges.
A final version of the bill will be drafted later this year. If passed in something like its current form, marijuana would be taxed and regulated like tobacco and alcohol. According to the draft, federal excise taxes on marijuana products would start at 10% (double what the MORE Act proposed), and then increase to a hefty 25% within five years of the passage of the bill. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau would collect and enforce taxes on cannabis products, while the Food and Drug Administration would be the regulatory agency charged with regulating the labeling, marketing, and manufacture of cannabis products.
The bill also includes provisions for certain social justice measures. The bill calls for the expungement of nonviolent federal cannabis convictions, and those already serving sentences for nonviolent federal cannabis crimes would be able to petition for resentencing. In addition, the bill stipulates that a grant program, known as the Community Reinvestment Grant Program, would be carried out by the Director of the Cannabis Justice Office (a position and an office that would be created if the bill becomes law) that would administer services in communities that have been adversely impaired by the War on Drugs. These programs include literacy programs, legal aid for civil and criminal cases, youth mentoring programs, and health education programs.
Gaining enough support for the passage of the bill will be a challenge. The bill would need at least 60 votes to end a filibuster and pass through the Senate. That means that the bill would need the support of at least ten Republicans, which could be difficult considering that not even all Democrats are on board with ending the federal prohibition on marijuana. In addition, and in keeping with his disappointing perspective on cannabis, President Biden has restated that he does not support legalizing recreational cannabis use.
This bill is a huge step forward and ultimately lays the foundation for federal recreational cannabis use. The federal government has lagged far behind individual states when it comes to cannabis legalization, and this bill is the first substantial effort to change federal marijuana policies. We will be following the evolution of the bill and the corresponding debate very closely in the future.