Three U.S. Senators are working to end the federal prohibition of cannabis.
July 14, Senators Chuck Schumer, Cory Booker, and Ron Wyden released a discussion draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which would remove cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances and put each state in charge of its own cannabis laws.
They are accepting public comment through September 1, and are expected to bring the bill to the Senate floor following any revisions.
“Americans want an end to marijuana prohibition,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted August 5. “That’s why @SenBooker, @RonWyden, and I released our Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act to work to end the federal prohibition and undo the harms of the War on Drugs.”
The draft gives several reasons for making the changes now:
States are legalizing recreational and medical use of cannabis, making federal reform especially urgent.
The difference between state and federal law means Americans risk arrest or disqualification from public housing or federal student financial aid when using cannabis in states where it’s legal.
State-compliant cannabis businesses will be on the same footing as other businesses, giving greater access to services like bank accounts and loans.
Medical research will no longer be stifled.
Who would regulate cannabis?
Similar to current regulations on alcohol, states would determine their own cannabis laws without federal prohibition. Regulatory responsibility would shift from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Leveling the playing field
Like recent legislation passed in Connecticut, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act includes restorative measures to benefit communities that were unfairly targeted by past policy and enforcement. If passed, the bill would:
Expunge federal non-violent marijuana crimes
Allow those in federal prison for non-violent marijuana crimes to petition a court for resentencing.
• Reinvest in the aforementioned communities through an “Opportunity Trust Fund.” This would be funded by federal cannabis tax revenue and, the bill’s authors argue, would help “level the playing field for entrepreneurs of color who continue to face barriers of access to the industry.”
The bill also includes provisions for research investigating the impact of legalization on driving safety and other areas of public health, according to McGuire Woods Consulting, a public-affairs consulting firm.
Will the bill pass?
Given the rapid pace of legalization across America — 19 states have legalized recreational use, and 37 medical — an end to federal prohibition seems inevitable. However, it might not be with this bill.
Politico reporter Natalie Fertig called it a "long-shot bid," noting that legislators will likely prioritize pandemic recovery and infrastructure spending, and if it comes to a vote Schumer would need the support of at least 10 Republicans to pass the bill.
Nicholas Fandos of the New York Times was no more optimistic. “The legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Republicans are opposed, and it is unlikely to become law soon,” he wrote. “President Biden has not endorsed it, and some moderate Democrats are likely to balk at the implications of decriminalizing a drug that has been policed and stigmatized for so long.”
Still, Fandos noted that the introduction of the bill itself is a sign of movement on the issue, writing, “The suggestion that the Senate’s top leader would sponsor major decriminalization legislation would have been fantastical in the not-too-distant past.”