A Democratic senator submitted a bill that would legalize marijuana nationally and regulate the plant in much the same way as alcohol and tobacco.

The bill, filed as the “Substance Regulation and Safety Act” by Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), represents yet another pathway by which Congress could pursue federal marijuana legalization. It would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act – making marijuana legal for adults 21 and older – and mandate various federal institutions to conduct research and develop rules and regulations for a safe legal marijuana industry.

The federal prohibition on marijuana is a failed policy that contributes to mass incarceration and the racist overpolicing of communities of color. It is time to end that policy,” said Sen. Smith. “In addition to addressing the harmful and racist legacy of the War on Drugs by passing bills like Senator Harris’ Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, we must address marijuana legalization in a manner that ensures that cannabis and cannabis products are safe, regulated, and well-researched.”

Under the bill’s provisions, various federal institutions would be charged with helping move the country toward a legal cannabis market which is safe for consumers. These include:

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would be responsible for regulating marijuana and marijuana-derived products, in particular establishing labeling requirements and advertising standards.
  • The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would be asked to develop rules ensuring cannabis is treated the same as tobacco.
  • The US Department of Transport would be instructed to develop tests that can determine when a driver is impaired by THC.
  • The US Department of Agriculture would set minimum quality control standards for cannabis cultivation.
  • The US Customs and Border Protection would work with other agencies to create new frameworks for cannabis imports and exports.

The bill also calls for a national youth strategy, developed by HHS, regarding legal marijuana to prevent its use and abuse by young people. This provision, alongside that mandating research into cannabis-impaired driving tests, further requires the input of civil rights stakeholders to determine whether these strategies are likely to have “racially disparate impacts.”

All agencies would have one year to develop and finalize the stipulated regulations following the bill’s passage into law.

Sen. Smith’s measure is one of several bills introduced to Congress that would legalize cannabis. The word around Capitol Hill is that lawmakers are angling for a House floor vote on the aforementioned MORE Act this September, even though it would be unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate. Smith’s bill, currently awaiting further deliberation in the Senate’s Judiciary Committee chaired by Sen. Lindsey Graham, could be more appealing to many Republicans, given it’s not largely concerned with funneling cannabis tax revenues to communities and individuals most harmed by the war on drugs.While many Democratic lawmakers continue to put forward marijuana legalization bills, the Democratic National Committee refuses to support full legalization as a part of the party’s 2020 election platform. This reluctance is widely believed to stem from presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s opposition to the measure, in spite of the bipartisan support it has among American voters, as well as the majority who view state-level marijuana legalization policies as a success.

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