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Schumer Asks Senators To Help Shape Marijuana Legalization Bill He Plans To File Soon

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Senate leaders are asking fellow lawmakers to weigh in on the provisions of a bill to federally legalize marijuana that they plan to file in the coming weeks that “aims to right the wrongs of the past and ensure that the federal government is matching the advancements made in states across the country.”

“Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once famously said that the states are America’s laboratories of democracy,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) wrote in a letter to colleagues on Thursday. “When it comes to reforming the nation’s antiquated cannabis laws, he could not have been more right.”

“This is an issue of individual freedom and basic fairness that clearly transcends party lines,” they said. “However, one major hurdle continues to stand in the way of states’ ability to make their own decisions about cannabis—the continued prohibition of marijuana at the federal level. As more and more states move to legalize cannabis for both adult and medical use, the federal government has an important role to play. Hundreds of millions of Americans live in states that have legalized cannabis in some form while it remains illegal at the federal level.”

“This discrepancy leads to confusion and uncertainty and raises significant questions around criminal justice reform, economic development and small business growth, and public health and safety, all of which we believe require some type of federal answer.”

Schumer has faced criticism from some advocates over the time it’s taken to get to this stage. But at a press conference last week, he announced that the “goal” is to formally introduce it in April.

The leader and his colleagues first unveiled the 163-page draft Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act in July 2021. The proposal would federally deschedule cannabis, expunge prior convictions, allow people to petition for resentencing, maintain the authority of states to set their own marijuana policies and remove collateral consequences like immigration-related penalties for people who’ve been criminalized over the plant.

The bill would also impose a federal tax on marijuana products and put some of that revenue toward grant programs meant to support people from communities most impacted by prohibition who want to participate in the industry.

Further, the legislation would transfer regulatory authority over cannabis from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to 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).

The Senate leader emphasized late last year that he wants to keep the “big boys” out of the marijuana industry in favor of creating opportunities for smaller operators when cannabis is federally legalized, and he said that his upcoming bill would accomplish that.

He’s also stressed that his reform measure will take specific steps to restrict the ability of large alcohol and tobacco companies to overtake the industry.

Speaking on the Senate floor on Thursday, Schumer discussed the Dear Colleague letter and said that “it’s long past time for the federal government to catch up” to states that have ended prohibition.

“This is about individual freedom and about basic fairness. For decades, federal cannabis laws have caused immense damage to millions of Americans, particularly Black and Hispanic people who have been unfairly targeted by these laws,” he said. “We need to change that. We need to create opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses to legitimately pursue new opportunities, and comprehensive federal cannabis legislation is critical, critical to reaching that goal.”

The majority leader and his two colleagues said in the new letter that they received more than 1,800 comments about their initial draft legislation “from a broad array of stakeholders.”

“In the weeks ahead, we will continue the work of incorporating these comments as we aim to introduce legislation soon that is as comprehensive and as reflective of as many relevant views and voices as possible,” they wrote.

Now, the Senate trio says that in order to “appropriately address such a nuanced issue,” they especially want input from leaders of “relevant committees” with jurisdiction on cannabis issues as well as “as senators who have dealt with the challenges and realities of legalization in their own states.”

“We would deeply appreciate your willingness to share your expertise on the intersections between your committees’ jurisdictions, your states’ experiences, and comprehensive cannabis reform and invite you to join the process of perfecting this legislation,” they said. “We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this issue with you in the weeks ahead.”

The senators also remarked on the rapidly expanding state-level legalization movement, which has seen a majority of states adopt policies ending prohibition and providing some form of regulated cannabis access. That includes traditionally conservative states like South Dakota, where voters at the 2020 ballot “demonstrated their support for legalization.”

“This issue, which we believe the Senate is long overdue in addressing, has implications across many areas of American politics and policy,” they wrote.

Meanwhile, on the House side, there’s a federal legalization bill sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), which passed the chamber last session and advanced through his committee again in September. It remains to be seen whether it will move to the floor again before Schumer’s bill is filed.

A bipartisan coalition of House lawmakers recent sent a letter to congressional leadership, demanding that the reform legislation be “expeditiously” taken up by Congress.

Also, in November, several Republican members of Congress introduced a separate bill to federally legalize and tax marijuana as an alternative to pending far-reaching Democratic-led reform proposals and scaled-down GOP cannabis descheduling legislation.

Read the full marijuana letter from Schumer, Wyden and Booker below:

South Carolina Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill On Initial Vote After Weeks Of Debate

Image element courtesy of Tim Evanson.

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