Senate Drafts Bill to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition

The proposal calls for removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), along with Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), released draft legislation today that would remove cannabis from the schedule of controlled substances while allowing states to determine their own cannabis policies.

The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, expunge federal convictions for nonviolent marijuana offenses and establish a way to tax marijuana a regulatory framework for state-legal cannabis businesses, and create programs to support small and minority-owned cannabis businesses while reinvesting resources in the communities that have been disproportionately harmed by prohibition.

“As Majority Leader Schumer noted today, this is a momentous occasion. This is the first time that the leadership of the upper chamber has championed a bill to end federal cannabis prohibition, and the fact that it is being done in such a thoughtful and proactive manner, engages stakeholders, and includes robust social justice and regulatory language is revolutionary,” said Aaron Smith, co-founder and chief executive officer of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

“Given the political environment in the Senate right now, our focus will be to explore ways to potentially improve the bill and gain Republican votes – particularly from those lawmakers representing states where cannabis is legal in some form – while we shore up Democratic support. This draft legislation is a great vehicle to jumpstart these conversations and find common ground across the political spectrum.”

At the press conference announcing the draft legislation, Sen. Booker noted that he would oppose any consideration of incremental measures that would provide safe harbor for financial institutions to offer services and loans to cannabis businesses prior to the passage of a more comprehensive legalization bill.

“We absolutely share Sen. Booker’s desire to enact comprehensive reform as soon as possible, but we also recognize – as do the sponsors of this legislation – that the status quo disproportionately hurts marginalized communities and small businesses, and that getting the bipartisan support necessary for passage in the current term is far from certain,” continued Smith. “Closing the door on broadly supported incremental reforms like the SAFE Banking Act while the Senate seeks compromise on farther-reaching bills hurts the possibilities for consensus and ignores the very real needs of small business operators who have repeatedly said that access to banking services and traditional lending is an existential issue. Big companies already have access to these services, and delaying that same access for small businesses would not further the goal of fostering a more diverse and inclusive industry. These efforts are not mutually exclusive, and history has shown that when it comes to cannabis, every step in the right direction builds momentum for bigger and better reforms at the state and national level.”

President Joe Biden supports decriminalizing marijuana on the federal level and expunging convictions, as well as rescheduling it as a Schedule II drug so it can be more easily studied, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in April. Biden supports leaving decisions about legalizing recreational pot to the states, she said.

Laws making cannabis legal and regulated for adults have been passed in 19 states as well as the District of Columbia and the territories of CNMI and Guam, and 36 states as well as several territories have comprehensive medical cannabis laws. The substance is legal in some form in 47 states.

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