WASHINGTON (The Hill) — Senate Democrats on Thursday unveiled long-awaited legislation to end the federal prohibition of marijuana, but opposition from Republicans and some Democrats is expected to pose a challenge to passing the measure.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced the bill, dubbed the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, in floor remarks on early Thursday, lauding the legislation’s introduction as “historic.” He said, “I am proud to be the first Majority Leader ever to say that it is time to end the federal prohibition on cannabis, and this bill provides the best framework for updating our cannabis laws and reversing decades of harm inflicted by the war on drugs.”
Schumer worked alongside Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to craft the legislation after the three released a draft plan last year for public feedback. Schumer said the senators have received more than 1,800 public comments and worked with “numerous Senate committees to improve the bill.”
Schumer said the bill would legalize cannabis by removing the drug from the Controlled Substances Act and “empowering states to create their own cannabis laws instead.”
“It will establish a robust regulatory system to protect public health and ensure that cannabis is as safe as possible. It includes rules to prevent impaired driving, prevent youth access, and prevent illegal diversion. We also robustly fund a variety of research programs to make up for lost time when it comes to cannabis research,” he said.
Schumer said the bill also includes measures aimed at expunging federal criminal records of those “with convictions for non-violent cannabis offenses,” allows “those in federal prison for nonviolent cannabis offenses to appeal their sentences,” and sets up a fund “to reinvest in communities that have been devastated by the war on drugs.”
“It is a tragedy that far too many Americans—particularly Black and Hispanic Americans—have permanent blots on their records making it nearly impossible to move forward with their lives, just because they were arrested with a little marijuana in their pocket. How unfair and what a waste of human resources,” he said.
Schumer cautioned the recent introduction marks only the “beginning of the legislative process,” but said senators will work to build momentum for the bill, which comes months after the House passed its own marijuana legalization legislation. “I look forward to working with Democrats and Republicans to get something done this year,” he said.
But the newly introduced bill faces tough opposition from many Republicans in the evenly split Senate, as well as resistance from some Democrats, threatening its chances of passage in the upper chamber.