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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer Delays Cannabis Legalization Bill

A.J. Herrington

By A.J. Herrington

April 20, 2022

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer revealed last week that a cannabis legalization bill at the federal will not be introduced this month as previously announced and will instead be filed sometime before the Senate recess in August. The legislation, titled the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), was first unveiled by Schumer, the senior senator from New York, and fellow Democrats Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey last summer.

On Thursday, Schumer said in a statement cited by The Hill that the bill will remove “cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances” and “help repair our criminal justice system, ensure restorative justice, protect public health, and implement responsible taxes and regulations.”

The bill is “critical legislation that will finally put an end to the federal prohibition on cannabis and address the over-criminalization of cannabis in a comprehensive and meaningful way,” Schumer added, as quoted by Marijuana Moment. “I am proud of the progress made in bringing this vital bill closer to its official introduction before the August recess, and I want to thank the committee chairs who have worked with us and remained committed to addressing this issue.”

Wyden said in a statement that it was important for the bill to be completed “well before the August recess to continue building momentum for cannabis reform.”

Schumer Unveiled Bill Last Summer

Schumer originally said last July that he planned to introduce the legislation to legalize and regulate cannabis at the federal level. In an appearance with Booker and Wyden, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Schumer released a 30-page draft version of the bill designed to spur discussion on the issue. Since that time the majority leader has said several times that the bill would be formally introduced “soon.” And in February, Schumer said that the bill would be introduced in the Senate sometime in April.

“In the coming weeks, we’re ramping up our outreach — and we expect to introduce final legislation. Our goal is to do it in April,” Schumer said at a February 4 event. “Then we begin the nationwide push, spearheaded by New York, to get the federal law done. As majority leader, I can set priorities. This is a priority for me.”

Earlier this month, Booker seemed to confirm that the CAOA would be introduced in April, noting the timing of the cannabis legalization bill would coincide with the April 20 celebration of cannabis culture.

“I don’t mean this to be fully in jest but there’s been a lot of conversation about doing it on 4/20,” Booker told reporters at the U.S. Capitol. “Aspirationally, I would love to see it done on 4/20 but I can’t speak to that, given all the things that are sort of backing up in the Senate.”

Bill Regulates and Taxes Cannabis Nationally

Under the bill from the trio of Democratic senators, cannabis would be removed from the list of regulated drugs under the federal Controlled Substances Act, and cannabis would instead be regulated and taxed like alcohol and tobacco. The measure includes social equity provisions to expunge convictions for minor federal cannabis offenses and levies a federal tax on cannabis products, with revenue dedicated to grant programs designed to invest in communities disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs. 

The CAOA would also transfer authority over cannabis regulation from the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Food and Drug Administration, with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau also assuming some regulatory duties. After releasing the draft version of the bill, Schumer, Wyden and Booker sent a letter to their Senate colleagues to rally support for the legislation.

“As more and more states move to legalize cannabis for both adult and medical use, the federal government has an important role to play. Hundreds of millions of Americans live in states that have legalized cannabis in some form while it remains illegal at the federal level,” the senators wrote. “This discrepancy leads to confusion and uncertainty and raises significant questions around criminal justice reform, economic development and small business growth, and public health and safety, all of which we believe require some type of federal answer.”

The CAOA is not the only plan to legalize cannabis pending before federal lawmakers. On April 1, the House of Representatives approved the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement Act. A separate bill from Republican Rep. Nancy Mace, the States Reform Act, was introduced in November.

A.J. Herrington

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A.J. Herrington

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