Editor’s note: This is a developing story and will be updated periodically through the day on July 21.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s bill to federally legalized cannabis is finally here.
The New York Democrat, along with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., officially filed the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) July 21 in the upper chamber.
The 296-page bill expands upon a 163-page draft that the Senate trio originally unveiled more than a year ago, before industry organizations and stakeholders spent the better part of two months submitting their feedback.
While the final version of the legislation filed Thursday broadens the initial proposal, the nuts and bolts of the bill remain: remove cannabis from the list of controlled substances; tax and regulate cannabis at the federal level; and grant states the power to keep or administer their own oversight programs.
In addition, the legislation provides provisions to help repair the harms and injustices associated with the enforcement of prohibition policies that have led to disproportionately targeting Black people and communities.
“For far too long, the federal prohibition on cannabis and the war on drugs has been a war on people, and particularly people of color,” Schumer said in a statement, adding that the CAOA “will be a catalyst for change [by] expunging the criminal records of those with low-level cannabis offenses, providing millions with a new lease on life.”
Specifically, the legislation directs funding to reinvest in people and communities impacted by prohibition and lays the groundwork to foster diversity and inclusion in state-regulated markets.
The majority of U.S. voters support comprehensive cannabis policy reform, including 68% of Americans who support full legalization, according to a November Gallup Poll.
As that support for cannabis policy change continues to strengthen, now is the time to effectively address the damage done to marginalized communities and create equitable opportunities in the burgeoning cannabis industry, NORML Political Director Morgan Fox said in a news release Thursday.
“The official introduction of this bill to finally end the policy nightmare of federal marijuana prohibition is the culmination of unprecedented leadership in the Senate and engagement with stakeholders across the political spectrum,” Fox said. “We look forward to working with lawmakers to move this legislation toward passage and eagerly anticipate engaging in substantive conversations on all aspects of federal marijuana law with Senate members. These conversations and hearings are long overdue.”
The broad legalization effort comes as incremental changes, such as the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which passed the House for the seventh time last week as an amendment to the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), continue to get held up in the Senate.
Addressing the lack of access to traditional banking services available in other industries, the CAOA would not only provide safe harbor to financial institutions to take on cannabis clients, but it also would eliminate the inability of licensed cannabis companies to deduct standard business expenses when filing their federal taxes.
While that provision is included in the CAOA, it should not distract congressional leaders from advancing limited “yet critical” reform efforts, such as SAFE Banking and expungement measures that are more immediately within reach, U.S. Cannabis Council CEO Steven Hawkins said in a statement to Cannabis Business Times.
“The introduction of comprehensive cannabis reform legislation in the Senate, by none less than the majority leader himself, is the strongest sign yet that cannabis prohibition in America is nearing its end,” Hawkins said. “We applaud the authors of the CAO Act for their leadership and vision. We are reviewing the updated legislative text and look forward to having substantive discussions on how to best transition away from the illicit market to a fully regulated, national market with opportunities for all.”
At the time of the CAOA’s filing, 19 states have legalized adult-use cannabis and 37 states have legalized medical programs without low-THC restrictions.