Schumer, Senate Democrats Unveil Long-Awaited Cannabis Legislation

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U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) finally unveiled his much anticipated plan to legalize cannabis at the federal level.

Called the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), the proposal was co-authored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

A 163-page draft of the bill — which would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and establish a regulatory framework for state-legal cannabis companies to conduct business — was released on Wednesday.

While the proposed legislation calls for cannabis to be federally descheduled and decriminalized, it would allow states to determine their own policies. Importantly, states that opt to maintain a ban on the sale of adult-use cannabis could not "prohibit the interstate commerce of cannabis transported through its borders for lawful delivery into another state," according to summary of the bill

The measure also proposes that federal regulation be transferred 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). 

Schumer’s plan includes language that promotes social justice, including the expungement of prior nonviolent cannabis convictions and the establishment of programs to support small and minority owned businesses.

“The War on Drugs has too often been a war on people, and particularly people of color,” Schumer said via a statement. “Not only will this legislation remove cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances, but it will also help fix our criminal justice system, ensure restorative justice, protect public health, and implement responsible taxes and regulations.”

Schumer, Booker and Wyden are seeking feedback on the bill, and a public comment period is open until September 1.

Reaction to the proposal was mixed, with most pro-cannabis groups cheering the bill’s introduction.

National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) co-founder Aaron Smith called it a “momentous occasion.”

“This is the first time that the leadership of the upper chamber has championed a bill to end federal cannabis prohibition, and the fact that it is being done in such a thoughtful and proactive manner, engages stakeholders, and includes robust social justice and regulatory language is revolutionary,” he said in a statement.

In a statement, Andrew Freedman, the executive director of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation (CPEAR), called it “an important step toward establishing a thoughtful and comprehensive federal regulatory framework for cannabis."

However, most analysts who cover the cannabis sector believe the bill is unlikely to pass.

Needham admitted that the bill was the “preeminent piece of comprehensive federal cannabis legislation to watch,” but said it has “very low odds of passing in its current form.”

Stifel called it a “step in the right direction,” but argued that Schumer does not have the votes needed to get it across the finish line or the blessing of President Joe Biden.

Moments after the bill was revealed, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden remained opposed to cannabis reform.

“Nothing has changed, and there’s no new endorsements of legislation to report today,” she said during a press briefing.

The consensus in the financial community is that the SAFE Banking Act, which would allow state-legal cannabis businesses to bank with major financial institutions, has broader bipartisan support.

“We think the most likely route is that this bill falls short, and then we move back to an amended SAFE Banking that includes additional provisions,” Jefferies analyst Owen Bennet wrote on Wednesday.

Additional commentary and links to more coverage are included below.

Steve Hawkins, CEO of the U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC) and Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP):

“It is time for cannabis prohibition to end, and we applaud the efforts of Senators Cory Booker, Ron Wyden and Senate Leader Chuck Schumer for their bold and necessary bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act. The war on cannabis was engineered to target people of color when it launched in 1937, and we live with the disproportionate impact today. We view this historic bill as an essential step toward righting decades of inequitable wrongs. We implore Congress to consider the importance of this moment; in looking at the eight states that have legalized cannabis since the election last November, it’s clear that ending federal cannabis prohibition is the will of the American people. We should no longer delay. The United States Cannabis Council (USCC) stays committed to its mission of federal legalization that prioritizes access, removes barriers to an equitable industry and provides restorative justice to communities harmed by cannabis prohibition.”

Joe Caltabiano, CEO of Choice Consolidation Corp, Co-founder of Cresco Labs.

“The introduction of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act is imperative to address the disparate impact of the War on Drugs and right the wrongs created by decades of injustices perpetrated by disproportionate enforcement against minorities. In addition, the opportunity to address safe access to cannabis and robust reforms needed for cannabis banking and tax policy is long overdue.

While this bill is an essential step in the right direction, it is a big ask and I’m a realist. It will take a lot to get this bill through Congress and signed by the President. I remain hopeful and enthusiastic for the passage of the Act, but I believe that even incremental actions such as the passage of the SAFE Banking Act would be a tremendous accomplishment for this Congress and the current administration.”

Nancy Whiteman, CEO, Wana Brands

“We applaud the introduction of legislation that would federally decriminalize cannabis. The introduction of legislation that would federally decriminalize cannabis would have implications far beyond banking. For starters, it will expand the opportunities for minority populations that have been disproportionately targeted during the War on Drugs. Federal decriminalization would also enable manufacturing and then shipping across state lines which would greatly benefit brands like Wana. Supply chains will become more efficient and cost-effective as plants would be grown in appropriate outdoor climates and other materials could be sourced across markets. For a company like Wana, it means that we would be able to manufacture and ship out of regional or national facilities instead of recreating the wheel in every market.”

Dasheeda Dawson, Chair of Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC) and Cannabis Program Supervisor at City of Portland, Oregon:

"The introduction of the Schumer, Wyden and Booker draft legislation is the first serious look at cannabis legalization for the Senate and I am hopeful that the equity-centered policy reform and regulation led by our members at the state and local levels will continue to shape this historic bill. Across the country, we have seen the positive impact of sharing our informed insights, testimony and proposed amendments aligned with our organization's founding principles. As active stakeholders overseeing policy and implementation in the existing cannabis industry, CRCC will continue to actively engage with the Senators' teams, providing industry best practices and cannabis competency gained from our collective and diverse experiences."

Dr. Rachel Knox, MD MBA, Chair of the Association for Cannabis Health Equity and Medicine (ACHEM):

“We are most encouraged by Booker, Wyden, and Schumer’s commitment to working with stakeholders to craft a final legalization bill for the Senate. Often missing from federal cannabis legislation are critical mention of rights and protections for patients and healthcare providers, and the institutional reform necessary to prepare students and professionals in medical fields to care for people who consume cannabis. The Association for Cannabis Health Equity and Medicine (ACHEM) looks forward to engaging the sponsoring offices with key recommendations that promote patient protection, professional proficiency, and institutional competency and reform.”

 Jim Cacioppo, Chief Executive Officer, Chairman and Founder of Jushi Holdings:

"I commend the U.S. Senators Cory Booker, D-NJ, Ron Wyden, D-OR and Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and their colleagues and staff for taking action to address these important issues and our country’s failed “War on Drugs.”

Our current federal laws cause hard-working Americans harm every day. They are responsible for tearing families apart and preventing otherwise law-abiding citizens from maintaining steady employment and housing. The enforcement of these laws has proven to disproportionately target people of color. They have also never reached their stated goals -- nor are they based on facts or science -- but rather misconceptions -- and it’s time we as a nation comprehensively address these issues.

Giving states the authority to fairly tax, regulate and enforce cannabis while setting clear standards is not only smart public health policy -- it also makes sense both socially and economically for our nation. Federally decriminalizing cannabis would overturn draconian civil and criminal penalties and the threat of asset forfeiture for all Americans.

We fully support redressing past harms, creating opportunity for the future and the expungement of federal non-violent cannabis convictions, resentencing, sentencing review hearings, encouraging states and localities to do the same and making loans more readily available to small businesses. This will help to uplift the communities hardest hit while promoting innovation and job growth for all.

By opening up new possibilities for research and development of cannabis and its compounds, we will greatly increase the potential to positively impact millions of suffering patients and finally provide America with a chance to secure a strong science and R&D leadership position.

Lastly, we were also extremely encouraged by the proposed amendments to our federal taxation laws, which would allow emerging cannabis businesses to take advantage of the same tax deductions that every other similarly situated businesses in the U.S. have access to. These changes would be a game-changer for our emerging industry, which has created hundreds of thousands of livable wage jobs for Americans and opened up a plethora of new opportunities that were previously unavailable."

ABC News: Democratic senators move to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level

CNN: Schumer and Senate Democrats unveil proposal to federally decriminalize marijuana

The New York Times: Schumer Proposes Federal Decriminalization of Marijuana

Politico: Schumer launches long-shot bid for legal weed

Cheddar: Senate Democrats Unveil Historic Cannabis Decriminalization Bill

Marijuana Moment: Here Are The Full Details Of The New Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill From Chuck Schumer And Senate Colleagues

Marijuana Business Daily: Long-awaited US Senate marijuana reform bill unveiled, but measure faces long climb


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