U.S. Senate Democrats Unveil Proposal to Legalize Cannabis at the Federal Level

July 26, 2021

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY), along with Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), circulated their long-promised marijuana legalization draft several weeks ago, on July 14.  Dubbed the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, this 163-page discussion draft is expected to be introduced in the Senate this fall after other senators and the public have had a chance to study it and suggest improvements.

The proposal seeks to eliminate marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act, expunge cannabis-related criminal records, and fund social equity programs with a new federal tax on cannabis sales. It would allow individual states to continue cannabis prohibition, but they would not be permitted to interfere with the interstate transport of cannabis so long as the shipment is moving between two legal markets.

What the Schumer-Booker-Wyden Federal Cannabis Legalization Plan Would Do

The Politics of Federal Cannabis Legalization and the Bumpy Road Ahead

No sooner had the Senate Majority Leader and his colleagues unveiled the details of their legalization plan, than the White House Press Secretary declared that President Biden did not support their proposal. This, of course, was a disappointment to marijuana advocates but not a big surprise to anyone who is familiar with Biden’s long-held views on the issue.

As recently as the 2020 presidential election campaign, Biden said he did not support legalization but would favor “rescheduling” cannabis from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug to enable the courts to expunge minor, non-violent marijuana offenses. This stance was reiterated by Press Secretary Jen Psaki despite the claims by advocates that rescheduling would not accomplish what the President was proposing. While neither President Biden nor his spokespeople have flat out said he would veto the bill if it landed on his desk, it seems likely he would.  

Another obstacle to the success of the Schumer-Booker-Wyden plan may simply be a lack of votes needed to pass in the Senate. If it is introduced as a bill, and without significant compromises, it currently looks like it would even lose some Democratic votes. This is problematic given the fact it has no Republican supporters at the moment.

Where Federal Cannabis Legalization Efforts Go from Here

As we stated from the outset of this blog, the Schumer federal cannabis legalization plan is being circulated for discussion and comment. NACB staff have started to analyze it and, together with your input, we hope to submit helpful ideas that help broaden Congressional and White House support.

The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act can be found here, and a much shorter explanation of its provisions can be read here.  

Please feel free to contact me at mark.gorman@nacb.com if you have comments or questions.