In a Milestone, Schumer Will Suggest Federal Decriminalization of Marijuana

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WASHINGTON – New York Senator Chuck Schumer plans to propose a federal decriminalization bill on Wednesday and put his weight as the majority leader behind a growing movement to end the decades-long war on drugs.

The bill, called the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and begin regulation and taxation, imposing federal rules on an emerging industry that has been exposed to years of uncertainty. Although states would still be allowed to pass their own marijuana laws, for the first time companies and individuals in states that have legalized its use could be free to sell and consume it without the risk of federal fine.

The proposal would also seek to compensate colored communities and the poor for the damage caused by years of restrictive federal drug policies. It called for the immediate removal of nonviolent marijuana-related arrests and convictions from federal records and would provide new tax revenue for restorative justice programs designed to empower communities affected by “the failed federal cannabis ban.”

The bill aims to “finally turn this dark chapter in American history and begin to redress this injustice,” said Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, who passed the bill along with Mr. Schumer and Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat Oregon, authored and chairman of the finance committee.

The law faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Republicans oppose it, and it is unlikely to become law anytime soon. President Biden has not endorsed it, and some moderate Democrats are likely to oppose the effects of decriminalizing a drug that has been monitored and stigmatized for so long.

But amid the swift public revision of marijuana laws, Wednesday’s presentation marked a notable milestone for advocates of legalization. The suggestion that the Senate chief and the chair of the powerful finance committee endorse large decriminalization laws would have been fantastic in the not-too-distant past.

Speaking on April 20, the unofficial holiday for marijuana smokers, Schumer said he was trying to push Washington off the sidelines of a debate in which much of the country was already involved. Opinion polls suggest that nearly 70 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana. 37 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, and 18 states plus DC allow recreational adult use.

Schumer has also made no secret of the fact that, in his opinion, the Democrats could benefit politically from the implementation of the legalization push, especially among young voters.

“Hopefully, by the next unofficial holiday of 4/20, our country will have made progress in combating the massive over-criminalization of marijuana in a meaningful and comprehensive way,” he said in April.

The senators were due to outline their plans at a press conference in the Capitol late Wednesday morning.

Updated

July 14, 2021 at 8:40 a.m. ET

They are expected to propose to empower the Food and Drug Administration and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau in the Treasury to regulate the production, distribution and sale of marijuana and to remove the Drug Enforcement Administration from its current oversight role . Among other things, the changes would allow marijuana companies already operating in states where it is legal to have full access to the U.S. banking system.

The bill would gradually introduce a federal excise tax like that on alcohol and tobacco sales, eventually rising to 25 percent for large corporations, meaning the federal government could benefit from nearly $ 20 billion in sales in 2020. The proceeds would then be returned to communities hardest hit by federal drug policies and to fund expanded medical research on cannabis, which is currently constrained by its controlled substance status.

For example, one provision would provide for a cannabis judicial office to be set up in the Justice Department to fund professional training, legal assistance and assistance with re-entry after incarceration. Another program would encourage loans to small cannabis companies belonging to members of racially or economically marginalized groups to ensure communities that have suffered disproportionately from the war on drugs are not excluded from the gold rush that comes with legalization.

However, the bill would aim to make other, more direct attempts to offset the effects of years of aggressive policing. In addition to overturning previous arrests and convictions, it would entitle those currently convicted of nonviolent drug crime at the federal level to a court hearing to reconsider their judgments. And if that were passed, the federal government would no longer be able to discriminate against marijuana users seeking government housing, food or health services.

The Democrat-run house passed a similar bill in December, which a handful of Republicans joined to vote for. The vote was the first and only time either house had approved cannabis legalization, but the bill died at the end of the last Congress. The home side plan to adopt an updated version in the coming months.

The passage through the Senate is likely to be more difficult. Mr Schumer would have to garner 60 votes, which means he needs the support of at least 10 Republicans. Although libertarian Republicans have generally supported ending the marijuana ban, party leaders are likely to oppose the Democrats’ plan, particularly with its emphasis on restorative justice and state intervention in the cannabis industry.

But the opposition isn’t limited to Republicans. Mr Schumer would have to convince moderate democrats who are uncomfortable with the consequences of decriminalization to support them.

Mr Biden supports decriminalizing marijuana and ending the drug war, but his views are generally more conservative than those of many Democrats and he did not support Mr Schumer’s proposal. Its White House made headlines this spring for rushing five employees over their marijuana use.