Senate Democrats Propose Marijuana Legalization Bill

Observers think passage will be a long time coming.

July 15, 2021


WASHINGTON—Yesterday, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York proposed legislation to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level amid a growing push to legalize cannabis, reports the New York Times.

Called the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, the draft bill proposes to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and begin regulating and taxing it, creating federal rules for the growing industry. States would still be allowed to devise their own marijuana laws, but businesses and individuals in states that have legalized the use of marijuana would be free to sell and consume it without the risk of federal punishment.

The measure faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Republicans remain opposed to legalization at the federal level. President Biden has not endorsed it, and the White House made headlines this spring for pushing out five staff members over their use of marijuana. Some moderate Democrats are also expected to reject the bill.

Public opinion polling suggests that nearly 70% of Americans support legalizing marijuana. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use, and 18 states, plus D.C., allow recreational use by adults. Schumer believes Democrats stand to benefit politically from embracing the legalization push, particularly with young voters.

Observers expect the bill to empower the Food and Drug Administration and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to regulate the production, distribution and sale of marijuana, removing the Drug Enforcement Administration from its current oversight role.

The legislation would gradually institute a federal excise tax like ones on alcohol and tobacco sales, eventually as high as 25% for big businesses. That would allow the federal government to benefit from sales that came close to $20 billion in 2020 and funnel some of those funds into communities. Tax money also would fund expanded medical research into cannabis, which is currently limited by its status as a controlled substance.

According to Business Insider, these are key points within the proposed legislation:

  • ​The bill would direct the attorney general to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.
  • The bill would establish 21 as the minimum age to purchase cannabis, with a purchase maximum of 10 ounces of dried cannabis or the equivalent.
  • Cannabis products would have an additional federal tax on top of state taxes in the first year. In the calendar year after the bill goes into effect, products would be taxed at a rate of 10%, which would increase until it reaches 25% by the fifth year.
  • Smaller businesses selling less than $20 million of products in a year would receive a 50% reduction on their federal tax rates. 
  • The Drug Enforcement Administration would no longer have jurisdiction over cannabis. Instead, the Food and Drug Administration, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, would oversee it.
  • Interstate commerce would be allowed. States would determine their own cannabis laws. They could legalize cannabis outright, create medical-only frameworks or prohibit cannabis sales. States would not be allowed to interfere with the transportation of cannabis if the substance is traveling between states where it's legal.
  • The bill would expunge records related to federal non-violent marijuana crimes and invest tax revenue in communities impacted by the War on Drugs.
  • Research into cannabis would be encouraged and funded. 
  • People couldn't be barred from public service because of cannabis use.
  • Federal agencies would be prevented from using past or present cannabis use as a reason for blocking someone from getting a security clearance. 
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