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Schumer And Democratic Senators Seek Support For Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Ahead Of 4/20, With Plans To File This Month



Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are soliciting support for a federal marijuana legalization bill that they plan to introduce later this month, setting a sign-on deadline for original cosponsors on the eve of the cannabis holiday 4/20.

In a Dear Colleague letter that was circulated on Tuesday, the senators said that a “growing number of Americans have made it clear, at ballot boxes, through their legislatures, and with their dollars: the War on Drugs has failed, and the federal government must respect the decision of states that have chosen to legalize cannabis.”

That should involve passing the forthcoming Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), they said. The bill that they plan to file this month will be largely identical to an earlier version they previously introduced in 2022.

“The question today is not whether cannabis should be legal—many states have already moved ahead. The question now is whether cannabis should be subject to the same high regulatory standards, based on preserving public health and safety, that apply to alcohol and tobacco,” Schumer, Wyden and Booker wrote to colleagues.

“Federal regulation is long overdue to ensure that cannabis products are as safe as possible, to prevent access by children and adults younger than 21, and to ensure that state and local jurisdictions have the resources they need to combat impaired driving,” the letter, which was first reported by Politico, says.

“Federal legislation is needed to ensure that the tens of thousands of people harmed by the failed War on Drugs, predominantly from communities of color, receive the justice they deserve after decades of over-criminalization. And the federal government must catch up with the states and recognize that the prohibition of cannabis has stymied research into the effects of cannabis, made it easier for the illicit market to thrive, and ensnared thousands of people arrested for simple cannabis possession in the criminal justice system.”

The senators said that bill is set to be reintroduced “by the end of April 2024,” and they’re requesting that members indicate whether they want to be added as original cosponsors by April 19—the day before 4/20.

A Senate staffer told Marijuana Moment that there haven’t been any substantive changes in this latest version of the bill, except that language around fair hiring in banking was removed because it has already been addressed in the most recent National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

While the text of the latest version isn’t available yet, here are the key versions of the CAOA as introduced in 2022:

  • 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’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.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,400 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Schumer said in a separate Dear Colleague letter last week 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 last month 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 this 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 last month that the bill remains a “very high priority” for the Senate, and members are having “very productive” bicameral talks to reach a final agreement.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) also said last month 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.

Read the senators’ letter on their cannabis bill below: 

Federal Officials Are Suddenly Seizing Marijuana From State-Licensed Businesses, Leaving Industry Perplexed

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