The leader of the U.S. Senate and colleagues will be releasing a discussion draft of a long-awaited bill to federally legalize cannabis on Wednesday, Marijuana Moment has learned.
Two sources who were briefed on the plans said that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) will hold a press conference Wednesday to unveil a preliminary version of what’s being titled the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.
Details of the proposal’s provisions are not yet available, but the purpose of the draft being released is to spark conversation to inform what will be a formal introduction of the bill at a later date. Advocates have been anxiously anticipating the legislation, which Schumer has repeatedly said was coming “soon” after he, Wyden and Booker first pledged in February that it would be ready “in the early part of this year.”
Beyond ending prohibition, Schumer said the proposal he and his colleagues are working on will “ensure restorative justice, public health and implement responsible taxes and regulations,” similar to what New York lawmakers sought to accomplish in a legalization bill that the governor signed into law this year.
The three senators formally started their efforts on the legalization bill by holding a meeting earlier this year with representatives from a variety of advocacy groups to gain feedback on the best approach to the reform.
Schumer made a point in March to say that it will specifically seek to restrict the ability of large alcohol and tobacco companies to overtake the industry. Instead, it will prioritize small businesses, particularly those owned by people from communities most impacted by prohibition, and focus on “justice, justice, justice—as well as freedom,” he said.
He also urged voters to reach out to their congressional representatives and tell them that “this is long overdue.”
Meanwhile, a House bill to federally legalize marijuana and promote social equity in the industry was reintroduced in May.
The legislation, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), was filed with a number of changes compared to the version that was approved by the chamber last year.
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The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act passed the House but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control. But this time around, advocates are optimistic that the policy change could be enacted now that Democrats run both chambers and the White House, and as more states are moving to enact legalization.
President Joe Biden, however, is an outlier within the Democratic Party, maintaining an opposition to adult-use legalization despite the widespread and increasingly bipartisan public popularity of the reform. It remains to be seen whether the president—who campaigned on more modest pledges to decriminalize cannabis possession, expunge prior records and respect state legalization laws—would stand in the way of a comprehensive policy change by threatening to veto the bill that’s ultimately produced.
Wyden, who under the chamber’s new Democratic majority assumed the top spot on the Senate Finance Committee—where the new legislation is likely to be referred once formally introduced—recently said his goal will be to “end the prohibition and come up with sensible tax and regulatory oversight at the federal level.”
He said in February that “it’s not enough in my view to just end cannabis prohibition,” and “I think we need to restore the lives of people who’ve been hurt most by the failed war on drugs and especially black Americans.”
To accomplish that, he said reform legislation should include provisions to provide expungements for those with prior cannabis convictions, community reinvestment programs, job training and reentry services and “access to capital.”
“I’m strategizing now on the next steps,” he said at the time. “We need comprehensive reform, and you need legislation to do it.”
“Certainly the fact that millions of Americans have voted for at least some of what I just described means that we’re in a position to move at the federal level,” he added. “I do think that this kind of crazy quilt—particularly as it relates to regulation and the financial aspects, particularly nationwide consideration—you really need some kind of bedrock federal rules on, one, ending the prohibition; two, sensible tax policies; and three, sensible regulatory oversight.”
All three senators—Schumer, Wyden and Booker—have in past years introduced marijuana legalization bills that never got hearings or votes.
Separately, a proposal to federally deschedule marijuana that does not include social equity components was recently filed by a pair of Republican congressmen.