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Top Senate Dem Introduces ‘Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act’

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U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who leads his party as Senate minority leader, filed a far-reaching marijuana bill on Wednesday.

Titled the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, the bill would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.

The legislation, which is cosponsored by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), would also set aside $20 million annually to states and municipalities for the purpose of administering, expanding or developing expungement or sealing programs for marijuana possession convictions. No less than half of the funds would be earmarked for public defenders and legal aid providers.

Another provision, according to its section title, would “level the economic playing field” in the cannabis industry by requiring the Treasury Department to annually transfer an amount equal to 10% of total tax revenue generated by marijuana or $10 million, whichever is greater, to an account called the Marijuana Opportunity Trust Fund. Grants would be doled out by the Small Business Administration to industry outfits controlled by women and socially and economically disadvantaged people.

“The time to decriminalize marijuana is now,” Schumer said in a press release. “The new Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act is about giving states the freedom to be the laboratories that they should be and giving Americans – especially women and minority business owners as well as those convicted of simple possession of marijuana intended for personal use- the opportunity to succeed in today’s economy. This legislation is simply the right thing to do and I am hopeful that the balanced approach it takes can earn bipartisan support in Congress and across the country.”

The legislation would also set aside funds for research on “the impact of driving under the influence of tetrahydrocannabinol on highway safety” as well as marijuana’s effects on the brain and its potential medical benefits.

Another provision states that the federal government can continue to prevent trafficking of marijuana to states that have not yet legalized it, implying that interstate commerce among legal states would be allowed.

Finally, it would require the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to develop “restrictions on the advertising and promotion of products related to marijuana.”

“The bill’s emphasis on facilitating the expungement the criminal records of individuals for marijuana possession cannot be overstated,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Millions individuals have suffered from the lifelong collateral consequences of criminal prohibition, making it harder for them to find a job, obtain housing, and access to higher education.”

“This bill is a welcomed shift of policy by Democratic party leadership. At a time when 68 percent of Americans support outright legalization, including outright majorities of Democrats (77 percent), Independents (62 percent), and Republicans (57 percent), it is time for the end of federal prohibition to become a truly bipartisan issue.”

Schumer first announced his intent to file the legislation more than two months ago on the eve of 4/20, a day of celebration for cannabis consumers.

The Senate minority leader’s embrace of cannabis reform came as somewhat of a surprise to observers of the issue, since he was long one of Congress’s most vocal proponents of the war on drugs.

See the full text of Schumer’s new marijuana bill below:

Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act by MarijuanaMoment on Scribd

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

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