An End to the ‘Legal’ States Patchwork? Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer Formally Proposes Nationwide Cannabis Legalization

Those differing state regulations have long caused cannabis companies massive headaches even as they wrestled with the illegality of interstate commerce
Written by 
Joan Oleck, Cannabis Journalist.
|Last Updated:

Consider the immense headaches the cannabis industry has suffered for years, stemming from the patchwork of 37 states legal for marijuana (and 18 legal for medical marijuana): Those differing state regulations have long caused cannabis companies massive headaches even as they wrestled with the illegality of interstate commerce.

That may all be about to change. Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, rolled out a “discussion draft” of a proposed bill for federal legalization. The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, if passed by both houses of Congress – and that remains uncertain – would:

  • Decriminalize marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act
  • Expunge the records of nonviolent cannabis offenders
  • Allow those currently in prison to petition the courts for resentencing
  • Present a plan for taxing cannabis
  • Create an Opportunity Trust Fund” using cannabis revenues to invest in the communities of color disproportionately affected by cannabis arrests.

“This is monumental,” Schumer said at a press conference. “At long last, we are taking steps in the Senate to right the wrongs of the failed war on drugs.” Standing with him at the event were two Senate co-sponsors, Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Corey Booker, D-New Jersey. Both have long been sponsors of legalization.

But that doesn’t mean that decriminalization enjoys broad Democratic support, especially among moderates, much less that of Democratic President Joe Biden, who has not spoken on the issue. Vice President Kamala Harris, however, has expressed support in the past. The bill would also need 60 votes for passage, including 10 from Republicans.

Not that some progress hasn’t been made: The U.S. House, in December, passed the MORE Act, an earlier legalization bill that is less comprehensive than the plan unveiled Wednesday. Supporters also point to such changes of heart as that of Republican and former Speaker of the House John Boehner, who once blasted marijuana but now serves on the board of a cannabis investment company. Then there’s former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who may not support marijuana legislation but is a strong advocate for products made of hemp, a major crop in his home state. Hemp, from which CBDs are made, became legal with the Farm Bill in 2018.

Perhaps the most talked-about aspect of Schumer’s bill is the records expungement and seeming acknowledgement that America made a terrible mistake locking up all those young men of color for nonviolent offenses. Ironically, on Tuesday, a day before Schumer’s announcement, the New Jersey courts vacated the records of 88,000 marijuana cases, with many more such cases expected to follow.

“For decades, our federal government has waged a War on Drugs that has unfairly impacted low-income communities and communities of color,”  Senator Booker said at the press conference. “While red and blue states across the country continue to legalize marijuana, the federal government continues to lag woefully behind.

“It is time for Congress to end the federal marijuana prohibition and reinvest in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs. I am proud to introduce this landmark piece of legislation with Senator Wyden and Majority Leader Schumer that will finally turn the page on this dark chapter in American history and begin righting these wrongs.”

Joan Oleck
Joan Oleck
Cannabis Journalist
Joan Oleck is a freelance writer currently specializing in the cannabis industry and cannabis tech. She has been an editor and reporter on staff for such publications as, Business Week, Newsday and The Detroit News. She won the Jesse Neal Award for best feature series in a trade publication, Restaurant Business, and a GLAAD Award for a Salon story about discrimination in adoption against single and gay parents

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