Senate Democrats unveil long-awaited marijuana legalization bill

Senate Democrats on Thursday introduced their long-awaited proposal to legalize marijuana, announcing sweeping legislation that would overturn the federal ban on the drug and cede power to states to determine how to regulate it.

The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, championed by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., Treasury Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Senator Cory Booker, DN.J., aims to make marijuana illegal To legalize at the federal level Create FDA monitoring requirements like those already in place for tobacco and alcohol.

“The legalization of cannabis has been extremely successful at the state level, so it’s time for Congress to catch up with the rest of the country,” Schumer said in a speech Thursday. “I’m proud to be the first Majority Leader ever to say it’s time to end federal cannabis prohibition, and this legislation provides the best framework for updating our cannabis laws and reversing the decades-long damage caused by the Drug War became.”

PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer listens during a news conference following a caucus luncheon behind closed doors at the Capitol in Washington July 19, 2022.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer listens during a news conference following a caucus luncheon behind closed doors at the Capitol in Washington July 19, 2022.

J Scott Applewhite/AP

Schumer didn’t announce next steps regarding the legislation or whether he would attempt to bring it up for further consideration in the Senate, though he said he hopes to do something about marijuana “this year.”

Voter support for legalization is growing. Corresponding April coverage of 538, a majority of registered voters in all 50 states now support cannabis legalization. Eighteen states, plus Washington, DC, have legalized recreational marijuana use for persons over the age of 21.

“I ask my colleagues in the Senate to think long and hard about what it means for public health and safety to hold onto the federal government in times past,” Wyden said in a statement. “By not acting, the federal government is empowering the illicit cannabis market, ruining lives and perpetuating ingrained racism in our criminal justice system, preventing small cannabis companies from growing and creating jobs in their communities. Cannabis legalization is here, and Congress needs to stick to the program.”

But Congress may not be as ready for a federal change. If Schumer tries to move the legislation forward, he faces an uphill battle in the Senate. At least 10 Republicans would need to support the measure for it to pass, and not all Democrats would necessarily support it either.

PHOTO: Sen Cory Booker (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference on July 12, 2022 in Washington, DC

Sen Cory Booker (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference July 12, 2022 in Washington, DC

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Still, supporters of the law say that simply introducing the bill is a step in the right direction.

“I’m excited about this day, but it also gives us momentum now to get something done,” Booker said, noting that the bill’s sponsors are exploring the best way to move the legislation forward.

“I would like to stress that this is the beginning of the legislative process, not the end. We will work hard to build support for our bill, and I hope we can continue to make progress on cannabis reform in the future,” Schumer said.

Lawmakers first submitted a discussion draft of the law last summer after Schumer branded legalization a legislative priority for Democrats. Over 1,800 comments later, senators today introduced a bill aimed at addressing concerns from Democrats and Republicans about marijuana regulation.

The bill includes a variety of public safety measures and regulations, changes marijuana tax policy, requires additional federal research into the effects of marijuana use, and eliminates drug testing for most federal employees.

However, anti-legalization advocates fear the newly introduced laws don’t do enough to regulate cannabis’ potency and could pose a threat to children, who may have easier access to the legalized drug. Randi Schuster, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School’s Center for Addiction Medicine, said at a Thursday news conference that the legislation is insufficient to place restrictions on products that may be attractive to children and adolescents.

“We are in a position where politics has far outstripped science, and making public policy decisions that are not aligned with science poses a serious health risk,” Schuster said.

Crucial to proponents, the Democratic proposal also focuses on racial justice. It aims to reverse damage caused by previous federal drug restrictions that have disproportionately impacted communities of color by erasing federal cannabis convictions from the record and expanding access to credit and business licenses for those affected by the earlier federal drug policy are affected.

“This is a comprehensive bill to correct many errors,” Booker said Thursday. “It’s a really solid restoration of justice bill that would bring extraordinary economic opportunity to our nation, create a tremendous amount of jobs and would tip the scales of justice once more.”

But Kevin Sabet, a former White House adviser to three different administrations, said Thursday he had concerns the equity proposals were unenforceable. Sabet, now president and CEO of SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), an anti-legalization organization, said legalization could create another dangerous industry like “big liquor” or “big tobacco.”

“This idea that we’re going to turn people who were bad at selling marijuana on the street into successful marijuana millionaires is a dream,” said Sabet. “The idea that we’re finally going to get it right now when it comes to marijuana and we’re going to let go of everything else right away, but it’s going to change a lot because we’re going to issue some social justice licenses when it comes to marijuana, is a joke.”

The NAACP previously requested Legalization measures that include equal access to business licenses in the marijuana industry.

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