US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced his intention to introduce a bill in April that would end federal marijuana prohibition.
Alongside Sens. Cory Booker (D) and Ron Wyden (D), Schumer is a cosponsor of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity (CAO) Act. The trio of senators initially released a draft version of the legislation last year, before soliciting feedback and input from the public and industry stakeholders on the proposal.
“In the coming weeks, we’re ramping up our outreach and we expect to introduce final legislation,” Schumer said at a press conference. “Our goal is to do it in April. Then we begin the nationwide push, spearheaded by New York, to get the federal law done. As the majority leader, I can set priorities. This is a priority for me.”
If passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden, the measure would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, thus bringing an end to the federal prohibition of cannabis.
“We are enthusiastic that the Senator is moving forward on his promise to prioritize cannabis policy reform in the 117th Congress,” said NORML’s political director Morgan Fox. “It is our hope that the official introduction of CAOA jumpstarts hearings and debates in the Upper Chamber — debates that are long overdue.”
Since first introducing the draft text of the CAO Act, Schumer has been under pressure from marijuana reform advocates to move quickly on the issue while the Democrats hold a slender majority in Congress. Schumer has also resisted calls to focus on incremental reform efforts like the SAFE Banking Act, which has been approved multiple times in the House of Representatives and would enable banks to work with state-legal canna-businesses without the threat of federal interference.
Schumer, however, insisted on prioritizing comprehensive federal cannabis reform ahead of piecemeal proposals and on building support through public consultation before formally introducing the measure.
Under the CAO Act’s initial drafting, the measure would require the US Attorney General to remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances. States would then be free to decide whether to continue with cannabis prohibition or to develop their own regulatory framework for marijuana.
States would be able to impose criminal penalties for cannabis-related offenses, such as possession, but would not be allowed to prevent interstate commerce of federally-legal marijuana products over their borders.
The CAO Act also includes provisions stipulating expungements of criminal records for those with federal, nonviolent cannabis offenses within one year of the bill’s passage into law.
Furthermore, the measure prohibits federal officials and agencies from denying benefits or services to individuals on the basis of legal marijuana use. Physicians working with the US Department of Veteran Affairs, meanwhile, would be allowed to recommend medical marijuana to patients for the first time.
More broadly, federal agency jurisdiction over cannabis would transfer from the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Food and Drug Administration and to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, in the same way that these agencies share responsibility over tobacco and alcohol products.
The CAO Act would establish a 10 percent excise tax on recreational marijuana sales, while medical cannabis purchases would be unaffected.
The CAO Act is one of three bills submitted to Congress that would deschedule marijuana. The States Reform Act and the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act were both filed in the House of Representatives. The MORE Act was approved by House lawmakers in the 116th Congress and it’s anticipated the proposal will be taken up again in this legislative session.