The Westleaf Staff
After months of promises, a draft of a bill to end America’s decades-long prohibition of cannabis is here. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, along with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden and Sen. Cory Booker, released their proposal to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act on Wednesday.
The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which the senators introduced as a discussion draft, is a proposal, not yet a formal bill. It’s meant to spark debate among members of Congress and the public before Sens. Schumer, Booker and Wyden craft the final legislative text this fall. The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, if passed, will end the federal ban on marijuana and regulate and tax it like alcohol and tobacco.
Sen. Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, calls on his colleagues in Congress to catch up with the American people, 70% of who already support legalization.
“For decades, our federal government has waged a War on Drugs that has unfairly impacted low-income communities and communities of color,” Booker said in a statement. “While red and blue states across the country continue to legalize marijuana, the federal government continues to lag woefully behind. It is time for Congress to end the federal marijuana prohibition and reinvest in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs. I am proud to introduce this landmark piece of legislation with Sen. Wyden and Majority Leader Schumer that will finally turn the page on this dark chapter in American history and begin righting these wrongs.”
The vast majority of states allow some kind of legal cannabis, as only 3 states have not reformed their marijuana laws, 18 states and Washington, D.C., allow adult use, and 37 states have legalized medical marijuana.
Sen. Wyden said that cannabis prohibition has been “a key pillar of the failed War on Drugs” and it’s time for that pillar to be dismantled. “It’s as simple as this: Sens. Booker, Schumer and I want to bring common sense to the federal government, end prohibition and restore the lives of those hurt most and set them up for opportunity,” Wyden said.
In the proposed legislation, Sens. Schumer, Booker and Wyden set forth a vision to deschedule, regulate and tax cannabis to help support an industry that is expected to hit $100 billion in annual sales by 2030.
The legislation allows states to determine their own laws, as they have the authority to do so with alcohol, but cannabis would not be illegal under federal law. This would allow U.S. cannabis companies to use the banking system, apply for loans and list on major stock exchanges.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration would be the primary federal regulatory authority concerning the manufacture, labeling and marketing of cannabis products. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau would be charged with the collection and enforcement of federal cannabis excise taxes as well as tracking and tracing of cannabis products.
Federal excise taxes on cannabis products would start at 10% and increase to 25% within five years after the bill becomes law.
The bill also incorporates social-justice measures, like the immediate expungement of federal non-violent marijuana crimes. People who are currently serving sentences in federal prison for nonviolent cannabis offenses would be able to petition a court for resentencing. Some of the revenue generated by federal cannabis taxes would be reinvested in the communities most impacted by the War on Drugs and also offer support to cannabis entrepreneurs of socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
“By ending the failed federal prohibition of cannabis, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act will ensure that Americans—especially Black and Brown Americans—no longer have to fear arrest or be barred from public housing or federal financial aid for higher education for using cannabis in states where it’s legal,” the senators write in the draft. “State-compliant cannabis businesses will finally be treated like other businesses and allowed access to essential financial services, like bank accounts and loans. Medical research will no longer be stifled.”
If passed, the Attorney General would remove cannabis from the list of controlled substances within 60 days. The government would also lay out a new definition of “cannabis” under the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act and set requirements like the ones regulating other substances such as tobacco. This definition would exclude hemp. Federal law would also establish a minimum age of 21 to purchase cannabis.
In what appears to be a sentence included to throw shade to President Biden, whose Administration fired staffers for cannabis use in March, the draft proposes that federal agencies would be prohibited from using past or present cannabis use as a basis for denying or rescinding a security clearance.
Government-funded and -supported research is another big component to the bill. The legislation would require the federal government to study the societal impact of adult-use cannabis legalization by analyzing data like rates of cannabis use, violent crime rates, employment statistics, traffic-related accidents and deaths, hospitalizations and emergency calls to poison control centers and other metrics.
To be sure, it’s not at all clear that the bill, once formally introduced, has enough support to become law. It would need at least 60 votes to beat the filibuster and pass the Senate. (Politico reported in April that not all Democrats are on board with ending marijuana prohibition and finding 10 Republicans will be a major challenge.) Another hurdle is President Joe Biden, who has clearly stated he does not support adult-use legalization.
But today, the proposed legislation formally sets off a scurry of lobbying activity. Over the last few months, a motley crew of strange bedfellows has come together to lobby politicians to support cannabis legalization. In May, Amazon announced that its public policy team will be “actively supporting” another bill, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2021 (the MORE Act) that was reintroduced to the House by Rep. Jerry Nadler this year. Other companies, including Altria, Brinks Security and Molson Coors, launched a think tank called the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education and Regulation that’s proposing federal policy.
Perhaps the most surprising name to put his hat in the legalize-cannabis camp is billionaire Charles Koch, the CEO of Koch Industries, which is one of the largest private companies in America.
In April, Koch’s political advocacy group, Americans For Prosperity, joined other organizations to form the Cannabis Freedom Alliance, which has already started lobbying Republicans in Congress to convince them to lift America’s federal cannabis ban. Koch and his network of donors are ready to spend millions of dollars on this effort.
For any member of Congress still on the fence about whether or not to legalize cannabis, Koch has two questions: “If you don’t like marijuana, or don’t like people doing that, and you have all these laws, how’s that working out for you?” he asks, while speaking from behind his desk at the Koch Industry headquarters in Wichita, Kansas, before making his second point. “Marijuana, as I understand it, is less addictive than alcohol. So, why is alcohol legal and marijuana isn’t?”