Dem Senators Unveil Marijuana Reform Bill, Aim To Decriminalize Pot
A demonstrator wears a pair of hemp glasses during a demonstration in favour of legalising cannabis in Berlin, Germany, 16 May 2015. The 'Global Marijuana March' is taking place with rallys worldwide. Photo: Gregor Fischer/dpa | usage worldwide
Gregor Fischer/picture alliance via Getty Images

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced Wednesday that he will propose draft legislation to decriminalize marijuana on a federal level, potentially ending an ongoing conflict between states, which are generally moving towards decriminalization, and the federal government, which has kept older, stricter laws against pot on the books.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that the “draft bill, called the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act” but it would also allow the federal government to move in on marijuana production and sales, “begin regulating and taxing” pot, and potentially “placing federal rules on a burgeoning industry that has faced years of uncertainty.”

The bill would allow states to keep their own marijuana laws in place, but “businesses and individuals in states that have legalized its use would be free for the first time to sell and consume it without the risk of federal punishment.”

The bill also has a criminal justice reform element, following on the heels of the Trump administration’s “First Step Act.” According to The New York Times, the bill would make an effort to reverse years of overcriminalization of pot consumption, “immediately expunging nonviolent marijuana-related arrests and convictions from federal records,” and it would “earmark new tax revenue for restorative justice programs intended to lift up communities affected by ‘the failed federal prohibition of cannabis.'”

As The Verge notes, that primarily affects minorities. “According to a 2020 analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Americans were more than three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as white Americans,” the outlet noted Wednesday. “An analysis by the Washington Post last year found that between 2015 and 2019, Black people accounted for 89 percent of the 3,631 marijuana arrests in Washington DC.”

The proposed legislation would also:

  • establish a minimum age of 21 for cannabis retail sales

  • conduct an evaluation of the societal impact of legalization by states with adult use of cannabis.

  • introduce three grant programs to create opportunity for those harmed by the War on Drugs

  • provide funding to eligible states and localities for loan programs for small cannabis businesses owned by “socially and economically disadvantaged individuals”

  • impose an excise tax on cannabis products similar to those on alcohol and tobacco

Unlike its sister piece of legislation, the House-passed Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment & Expungement (MORE) Act, the Senate bill does not do away with drug testing for federal employees.

Schumer announced on April 20, 2021, (4/20, an unofficially recognized, marijuana-centric holiday) that he would “prod the federal government off the sidelines” on the debate over marijuana decriminalization, particularly in light of news that 37 of 50 states have passed marijuana decriminalization in some form, and 18 states have decriminalized marijuana for recreational use.

Until Congress passes some form of marijuana-related legislation, changing how marijuana is classified at the federal level, individuals who live in those states and also grow, sell, or consume pot are still subject to federal law — and to prosecution by federal agencies — even if they are not targeted by local or state law enforcement.

“These changes represent a dynamic shift in public opinion and support across the political spectrum,” a statement from Schumer and two colleagues, released Wednesday, reads. “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.”

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