Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is preparing to throw his considerable legislative weight behind the growing effort to legalize cannabis on the federal level, with the New York Democrat announcing Wednesday his plans to introduce a "discussion draft" of his proposed Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act in the Senate.
While Schumer has hardly been quiet about his support for federal legalization lately, Wednesday's action marks a major step forward in the broader push to destigmatize and reposition marijuana within the broader national psyche. The bill will reportedly propose not only removing weed from the Controlled Substances Act, but would also begin to craft the legal framework for sales, taxation, and regulation on a federal level.
Crucially, the bill seeks to address the historic wrongs cannabis enforcement has inflicted on communities of color, expunging prior marijuana convictions from people's criminal records, and redirecting tax revenue raised of legalized weed back toward those communities that have been been unduly harmed by the government's decades long "war" against marijuana.
Per a draft of the proposed bill obtained by Marijuana Moment, the Schumer-backed legislation would create a number of grant opportunities including one to "fund nonprofits that provide services to individuals adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, such as job training, re-entry services, and legal aid, among other services." Another grant program is designed to help marginalized communities gain access to the cannabis industry once it is fully legal.
"Communities that have been most harmed by cannabis prohibition are benefitting the least from the legal marijuana marketplace," the text of the bill reads. "[A] legacy of racial and ethnic injustices, compounded by the disproportionate collateral consequences of 80 years of cannabis prohibition enforcement, now limits participation in the industry," it adds.
This past winter, the House of Representatives passed its own version of a federal legalization bill, marking the first time either chamber of Congress had approved a measure to make marijuana legal. According to The New York Times, House leaders are expected to revisit that bill this legislative session in light of Schumer's proposal on Wednesday.
Crucially, Schumer's bill still affords states the ability to keep weed criminalized on the local level, meaning that even if the measure passes — and it's extremely unlikely that it will, given the current makeup of the Senate — it's no guarantee that dispensaries will start popping up on every street corner in every city overnight. Still, by simply proposing the bill, Schumer has sent a signal that there is enough political coverage and momentum for legalized cannabis that even the uppermost echelons of Democratic leadership feel comfortable backing it publicly.
If, however, the bill were to pass, it's still unclear whether President Biden would sign it into law. His own stance on federal legalization has been pointedly lukewarm, despite overwhelming public support for a dramatic reimagining of how cannabis fits into the American legal system from the public. Indeed, when both Schumer and ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas can find common ground on the pressing need to address federal legalization efforts, it's a surefire sign that nationwide legal weed isn't a question of "if" anymore, but "when."