U.S. Senate Democrats Unveil Proposal to Legalize Cannabis at the Federal Level

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY), along with Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), circulated their long-promised marijuana legalization draft several weeks ago, on July 14.  Dubbed the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, this 163-page discussion draft is expected to be introduced in the Senate this fall after other senators and the public have had a chance to study it and suggest improvements.

The proposal seeks to eliminate marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act, expunge cannabis-related criminal records, and fund social equity programs with a new federal tax on cannabis sales. It would allow individual states to continue cannabis prohibition, but they would not be permitted to interfere with the interstate transport of cannabis so long as the shipment is moving between two legal markets.

What the Schumer-Booker-Wyden Federal Cannabis Legalization Plan Would Do

  • Remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act within 60 days of enactment.
  • Allow adults aged 21 and older to possess and use cannabis and to purchase up to 10 ounces at a time.
  • Take federal regulatory authority over cannabis away from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and assign it to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB).
  • Require Federal district courts to expunge arrest records and convictions of individuals found guilty of non-violent, cannabis-related offenses within one year.
  • The bill’s draft proposes social equity grant programs to be funded by new cannabis taxes. Among them, one would fund job training and re-entry services for underserved communities. Another would support small business loans to cannabis companies owned by “socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.”
  • Federal cannabis taxes would start at 10 percent for the first two years, and would be increased in subsequent years to 15, 20, and eventually 25 percent. The bill includes a 50 percent tax reduction for smaller cannabis producers with less than $20 million in annual sales.
  • Doctors with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs would be allowed to make medical cannabis recommendations.

The Politics of Federal Cannabis Legalization and the Bumpy Road Ahead

No sooner had the Senate Majority Leader and his colleagues unveiled the details of their legalization plan, than the White House Press Secretary declared that President Biden did not support their proposal. This, of course, was a disappointment to marijuana advocates but not a big surprise to anyone who is familiar with Biden’s long-held views on the issue.

As recently as the 2020 presidential election campaign, Biden said he did not support legalization but would favor “rescheduling” cannabis from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug to enable the courts to expunge minor, non-violent marijuana offenses. This stance was reiterated by Press Secretary Jen Psaki despite the claims by advocates that rescheduling would not accomplish what the President was proposing. While neither President Biden nor his spokespeople have flat out said he would veto the bill if it landed on his desk, it seems likely he would.

Another obstacle to the success of the Schumer-Booker-Wyden plan may simply be a lack of votes needed to pass in the Senate. If it is introduced as a bill, and without significant compromises, it currently looks like it would even lose some Democratic votes. This is problematic given the fact it has no Republican supporters at the moment.

Where Federal Cannabis Legalization Efforts Go from Here

As we stated from the outset of this blog, the Schumer federal cannabis legalization plan is being circulated for discussion and comment. NACB staff have started to analyze it and, together with your input, we hope to submit helpful ideas that help broaden Congressional and White House support.

The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act can be found here, and a much shorter explanation of its provisions can be read here.  

Please feel free to contact me at mark.gorman@nacb.com if you have comments or questions.