US Senators Unveil Bill to Federally Legalize Cannabis
After months of anticipation, a group of US senators has revealed the first draft of their bill to federally legalize cannabis.
The measure – promoted by the Senate’s majority leader, Chuck Schumer, and senators Cory Brooker and Ron Wyden – proposes to remove marijuana’s federal status as a prohibited drug, expunge nonviolent cannabis-related criminal records, and allow states to keep the drug illegal if they so choose.
Under the bill, cannabis would become a federally legal substance for adults aged 21 and over, but a purchase cap of 10 ounces (283 grams) per retail visit would be put in place.
Federal authority of cannabis regulation would be moved 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 Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB).
The measure would also establish funding for federal research into how cannabis impacts driving and the functioning of the brain. Cannabis-related data would also be collected about traffic deaths, violent crime, and other public health concerns.
Many of the 18 US states that have already legalized recreational cannabis did so with a focus on addressing how prohibition has harmed communities of color, and the new bill from Senator Schumer is no different.
“The continued enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws results in over 600,000 arrests annually, disproportionately impacting people of color who are almost 4 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than their White counterparts, despite equal rates of use across populations,” the bill reads.
To help make amends for these disparities, Schumer’s bill proposes three grant programs designed to help individuals disadvantaged by the war on drugs to receive expungements for federal non-violent cannabis offenses. States and cities would also have to create automatic expungement programs for such cannabis offenses to be eligible for any grant funding created by the bill.
In addition, the bill would permit doctors within the US Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe medical cannabis.
Senator Schumer has previously stated that the wording of the bill is likely to change following further consultations with lawmakers and cannabis industry insiders. Indeed, anyone wishing to comment on the legislation can do so (emails to Cannabis_Reform@finance.senate.gov.) until September 1.
Reaction to the bill, from both cannabis advocates and those cautious about legalization, has been mixed.
Moments after Schumer’s bill was unveiled in a press conference on Wednesday, July 14, the White House’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, was asked for a response from President Joe Biden, who has previously expressed support for cannabis decriminalization but not for legalization and regulation.
“I have spoken in the past about the president’s views on marijuana. Nothing has changed, and there’s no new endorsements of legislation to report today,” she said at a press briefing.
In contrast, the response from cannabis policy advocates has been more structured, often encouraging the proposals to go further.
“While this is an encouraging proposal, ASA [Americans for Safe Access] is advocating for a complete review and reassignment of federal departments and agencies from DEA and National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST),” ASA’s executive director, Debbie Churgai, said in a statement.
“These missions need to be reorganized to facilitate a pathway for federally sanctioned cannabis medicine, and that needs to be done with a thoughtful approach that prioritizes patients. ASA looks forward to working with the sponsors of this discussion draft, along with other Hill offices and the Biden administration to ensure that no patient is left behind,” she added.