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Schumer And Other Democratic Senators File Bill To Federally Legalize Marijuana

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and a coalition of other Democratic senators have officially reintroduced a bill to federally legalize marijuana.

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One day after the Justice Department announced that it is moving to reschedule cannabis in a historic policy shift, the senators held a press conference on Wednesday to unveil the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA).

The senators’ move to file the broad legalization measure also comes as industry advocates continue to push to enact narrower legislation focused on cannabis business’s access to banking services.


“It’s past time for the federal government to catch up to the attitudes of the American people when it comes to cannabis,” Schumer said in a press release on Wednesday. “That’s why we’re reintroducing the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, legislation that would finally end the federal prohibition on cannabis while prioritizing safety, research, workers’ rights and restorative justice.”

“We have more work to do to address decades of over-criminalization, particularly in communities of color, but today’s reintroduction shows the movement is growing, and I will keep working until we achieve meaningful change,” he said.

At the start of the press conference on Wednesday, Schumer said the bill “would right this grave wrong—and in place of the war on drugs, our bill would lay a foundation for something very different: A just, responsible and common sense approach to cannabis regulation.”

Wyden stressed that the CAOA “doesn’t tell states what to do—but it provides them with the tools to effectively implement the laws their voters and legislators choose.”

“Public health, public safety, opportunity and social justice must be at the core of any cannabis reform proposal, and it’s crucial stakeholders continue to have a seat at the table,” he said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues and advocates across the country to make these priorities a reality.”

During Wednesday’s press conference, Wyden also said DEA’s rescheduling decision should be viewed as a “kick in the pants in terms of: ‘Congress, get going to deal with it and particularly to not just reschedule but deschedule.'”

Booker, meanwhile, said it’s “long past time to confront the failure of the War on Drugs, particularly its disproportionate impact on communities of color and low-income individuals.

We must take proactive and significant steps to rectify these ongoing injustices.”

“Thousands of people have suffered at the hands of our broken cannabis laws, and the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act would finally dismantle the outdated federal marijuana prohibition, expunge past convictions for people with low-level cannabis offenses, and ensure restorative justice for communities impacted by the War on Drugs,” he said.

“These common-sense policies will ensure a more equitable criminal justice system and promote public safety.”

The senator also addressed a bipartisan marijuana banking bill that Schumer has championed. He said the last Congress got to the “one yard line” with the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, and “it was a step in the right direction” with certain equity provisions attached.

That’s a notable rhetorical shift compared to the press conference unveiling the original CAOA in 2021, where Booker vowed to block any efforts to advance cannabis banking reform before legalization is enacted.

CAOA is being introduced with a total of 18 original cosponsors. In addition to the trio leading the bill, the other members signed on are Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Gary Peters (D-MI), Tina Smith (D-MN), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), John Fetterman (D-PA) Laphonza Butler (D-CA).

Here are the key versions of the CAOA as reintroduced:

  • Require the attorney general to finalize a rule removing marijuana from the CSA within 180 days of enactment.

  • Impose a 5 percent federal excise tax on small- to mid-sized cannabis producers, which would gradually increase to 12.5 percent after five years. For large businesses, the tax would start at 10 percent and increase to a maximum of 25 percent.

  • Only those 21 and older would be allowed to purchase recreational marijuana products, as is already the policy in states that have legalized for adult use.

  • Expunge the records of people with low-level, federal cannabis convictions within one year of enactment, while allowing those currently incarcerated over marijuana to petition the courts for relief.

  • Create a federal regulatory framework for the marijuana industry, with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) all playing key roles.

  • Within FDA, there would be a Center for Cannabis Products responsible for regulating “the production, labeling, distribution, sales and other manufacturing and retail elements of the cannabis industry,” according to a summary.

  • The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) would need to update or issue new guidance clarifying to banks and credit unions that the policy change means that they can lawfully service legitimate cannabis businesses.

  • States could choose to continue prohibiting marijuana production and sales, but they could not prevent transportation of cannabis products between legal states through their jurisdictions.

  • Federal laws would still prohibit trafficking in states that ban marijuana and in legal states that impose laws for trafficking.

  • Establish a grant program to fund non-profit organizations that provide job training, reentry services and legal aid. The program would be managed by a new Cannabis Justice Office under the Justice Department.

  • DOJ grants would also go toward law enforcement hiring and community outreach to combat the illicit market.

  • Separate Equitable Licensing Grant and Equitable Licensing Grant Programs would provide funding for states and localities to promote participation in the industry by minority and low-income people.

  • Further, there would be a 10-year pilot program through the federal Small Business Administration “for intermediary lending” to provide “direct loans to eligible intermediaries that in turn make small business loans to startups, businesses owned by individuals adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, and socially and economically disadvantaged small businesses.”

  • People could not be denied federal benefits due to the use or possession of marijuana or for a conviction for a cannabis offense. That includes preventing the revocation of security clearances for federal employees.

  • Federal employment drug testing for marijuana would also be prohibited, with certain exceptions for sensitive positions such as law enforcement and those involving national security.

  • Physicians with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) would be authorized to issue recommendations for medical cannabis to veterans.

  • There would be measures taken to prevent diversion, including the establishment of a track-and-trace regime. Further, retail cannabis sales would be limited to 10 ounces in a single retail transaction.

  • Federal law would be amended to explicitly state that SBA programs and services available to marijuana businesses and companies that work with them.

  • The Government Accountability Office (GAO) would be required to facilitate a number of studies into marijuana policy—for example evaluations of the societal impact of legalization in states with recreational marijuana laws on the books, including information on impaired driving, violent crime and more.

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) would need to compile demographic data on business owners and employees in the cannabis industry.

  • Employers with federal cannabis permits required under the legislation that violate certain federal labor laws could see their permits rescinded—a bold policy proposal that would make the marijuana industry uniquely labor friendly.

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would be required to work with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on ways to promote research into cannabis impacts. There would be a specific requirement to study the diversity of marijuana products available for research purposes.

  • The bill calls for an increase in the quantity of cannabis that’s available for study purposes.

  • There would be targeted public education campaigns meant to deter youth consumption. States would also receive funding for initiatives to prevent youth use and impaired driving, which would include money for education and enforcement.

  • The Department of Transportation would be responsible for developing a standard for THC-impaired driving within three years of the bill’s enactment that states would be required to adopt, unless the secretary finds the department is unable to set such a scientific standard.

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would be tasked with collecting data on impaired driving, producing educational materials on the issue for states to distribute and carry out education campaigns.

  • Vaping delivery system products that contain added natural or artificial flavors would be banned under the proposal.

The bill is largely identical to an earlier version the senators previously introduced in 2022, except that language around fair hiring in banking was removed because that issue has already been addressed in the most recent National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Schumer said in a floor speech earlier on Wednesday that the CAOA is a “comprehensive and necessary update to the federal government’s approach to cannabis.”

“I am proud to be the first majority leader ever to call for an end to the marijuana prohibition because I’ve seen both the consequences of outdated drug laws and the benefits of common sense cannabis regulation at the state level,” he said. “It’s time for Congress to follow suit.”

While advocates support ending federal prohibition, some are withholding their endorsement from the bill unless it is revised to more effectively prevent corporate consolidation in the marijuana market.

“CAOA represents a historic step towards comprehensive federal marijuana legalization and restorative justice. However, in its current form, we cannot endorse the bill,” Shaleen Title, founder and director of the Parabola Center, told Marijuana Moment.

“It fails to adequately address the high risk of market consolidation that could harm small and POC-owned businesses, leaving a need for additional legislative and regulatory work going forward,” she said. “Without stronger guardrails, the bill would lead to monopolization by industries that have historically profited from addiction and opposed legalization. We appreciate the sponsors’ commitment to supporting workers and small businesses and remain ready to collaborate on equity-centered solutions as cannabis legalization moves forward.”

But the overall push for legalization that goes beyond the administrative rescheduling process is also earning praise.

U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC) Senior Vice President of Public Affairs David Culver said in a press release on Wednesday that the organization welcomes the development, adding that the “end of federal cannabis prohibition is within sight, and our nation will need smart legislation to usher in a new era of legal access.”

“The CAOA is historic in its ambition and sweeping nature,” he said. “We look forward to reviewing the updated legislative text and engaging in substantive discussions about how to transition away from the illicit market to a regulated national market that provides opportunities for all.”

The bill’s prospects of passage this year are slim. Democrats only hold a narrow majority in the Senate and would need GOP buy-in to advance it through the chamber. And it’s highly unlikely that the GOP-controlled House would take it up, especially under the leadership of anti-cannabis Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA).

Instead, most advocates and stakeholders are awaiting action on a bipartisan marijuana banking bill that cleared a Senate committee last September and is now awaiting floor action before potentially moving to the House.

Schumer and other Democratic senators are “trying to recruit Republicans” to join them in the push for federal marijuana legalization, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) said at an event ahead of 4/20 last month.

Schumer said in a separate Dear Colleague letter last month that he intends to pass the legislation to “safeguard cannabis banking” as part of a “busy agenda” that he hopes to achieve in the “weeks and months ahead,” though he again stressed the need for bipartisan cooperation.

He also recently asked people to show their support for the SAFER Banking Act by signing a petition as he steps up his push for the legislation. A poll released in March by the American Bankers Association (ABA) shows that roughly three out of five Americans support allowing marijuana industry access to the banking system.

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), who also sits on that committee, said last month that that “if Republicans want to keep the House,” they should pass the marijuana banking bill, arguing that “there are votes” to approve it.

Schumer told Marijuana Moment in March that the bill remains a “very high priority” for the Senate, and members are having “very productive” bicameral talks to reach a final agreement.

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) introduced a bill last month to create federal incentives for states, localities and Indian tribes that expunge low-level marijuana records—an equity-focused reform proposal Schumer has repeatedly discussed attaching to the SAFER Banking Act.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) also said recently that passing the SAFER Banking Act off the floor is a “high priority.” However, he also recently said in a separate interview that advancing the legislation is complicated by current House dynamics.

Meanwhile, a top Democratic House member also reintroduced legislation last year to federally legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, with provisions to expunge prior cannabis convictions.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) recently unveiled a legislative agenda that includes marijuana legalization and expungements among a list of priorities that members say Democrats “can pass with congressional majorities” if they keep the Senate and retake the House in the November elections



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