U.S. Senators Launch Bid for Federally Legal Marijuana

A difficult debate is brewing in the U.S. Senate. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer released draft legislation Wednesday to legalize marijuana across the country. The lawmaker was joined by fellow senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in proposing to withdraw laws and federal penalties on marijuana. If passed, the legislation would also expunge nonviolent federal cannabis-related criminal records and let states make their own marijuana laws.

Credit: J Doms

The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) would also help put an end to the unfair targeting and treatment of communities of color by removing cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances, according to a press release. “Ending the federal prohibition on cannabis is becoming increasingly urgent as more and more states continue to legalize adult and medical use of cannabis,” the release states. “Despite the fact that cannabis is illegal under federal law, the majority of Americans live in a state where cannabis is legal in one form or another and more than 90 percent of Americans believe it should be legalized for either adult or medical use.”

To date, the adult use of cannabis is legal in 18 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam; and 37 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have advanced laws to allow medical cannabis. Schumer said that this legislative proposal goes a step beyond legalizing cannabis by expunging federal non-violent marijuana crimes and allowing individuals currently serving time in federal prison for non-violent marijuana crimes to petition a court for resentencing. It will also establish a fund to reinvest in the “communities that were hurt by the War on Drugs and provide restorative justice” to communities of color.

“I am proud to introduce our discussion draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, a legislative proposal aimed at finally putting an end to the federal prohibition of cannabis and addressing the over-criminalization of cannabis in a comprehensive and meaningful way,” said Schumer. “The War on Drugs has too often been a war on people, and particularly people of color. Not only will this legislation remove cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances, but it will also help fix our criminal justice system, ensure restorative justice, protect public health, and implement responsible taxes and regulations.”

The cannabis industry, which employs over 320,000 workers and generated over $17.5 billion in sales in
2020, also presents a significant opportunity for economic empowerment, according to the release. The industry saw 32 percent growth in 2020; and by 2025, it is estimated that the cannabis industry could have nearly $45.9 billion in annual sales.

These proposals build upon the recent Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act by the U.S. House of Representatives. The CAOA expands beyond the MORE Act by proposing a “moon-shot effort to address drugged driving and multi-substance impairment, establishing strong cannabis health and safety standards” under the Food and Drug Administration, and leveraging the expertise of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) within the Department of Treasury to regulate industry practices.