A long-awaited U.S. Senate legislation that would decriminalize and deschedule cannabis on the federal level, while also promoting social equity, has finally been unveiled.
What Happened: The bill from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senators Ron Wyden, and Cory Booker — titled the Cannabis Administration And Opportunity Act (CAOA) — was presented Thursday. Here are the highlights from the nearly 300 pages:
- The Attorney General should complete the rules removing marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinol in cannabis from the Controlled Substance Act within 180 days of the law enactment.
- Set a 5% federal excise tax on small to mid-sized marijuana producers that would be gradually raised to 12.5% after five years.
- For larger businesses, the tax would start at 10% to reach a maximum of 25%.
- Recreational marijuana products would be legal only to adults 21 and older.
- Expungement of records of individuals with low-level, federal cannabis convictions within one year of enactment.
- Establish a federal regulatory framework for the cannabis industry with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) having the most important roles.
- Under FDA, there would be a Center for Cannabis Products in charge of “the production, labeling, distribution, sales, and other manufacturing and retail elements of the cannabis industry.”
Why It Matters: Schumer and fellow Sens. Booker and Wyden introduced the outline of the CAOA in July 2021. The proposal included plans to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, expunge prior convictions and allow people who are serving time for applicable crimes to petition for resentencing. The timeline for filing the final version of the comprehensive marijuana reform proposal was postponed several times, with Schumer promising to file it sometime before the August recess, and apparently, fulfilling the promise.
The U.S. Cannabis Council welcomed the presentation of CAOA. “The introduction of comprehensive cannabis reform legislation in the Senate, by none less than the Majority Leader himself, is the strongest sign yet that cannabis prohibition in America is nearing its end,” U.S. Cannabis Council CEO Steven Hawkins stated.
“We applaud the authors of the CAO Act for their leadership and vision. We are reviewing the updated legislative text and look forward to having substantive discussions on how to best transition away from the illicit market to a fully regulated, national market with opportunities for all,” Hawking continued. “The detailed policy conversations happening around the CAO Act should not distract us from its historic nature. At the same time, the ambitious and sweeping nature of the bill should not distract Congress from advancing limited yet critical reforms, such as expungement and the SAFE Banking Act, that are immediately within reach.”
What's Next: While most industry experts doubt that the measure would reach President Joe Biden’s desk, as it faces strong opposition from Republican Senators, they do agree that this is an important step for major reform.
Also, reports that the long-awaited legislation would be introduced this week sent cannabis stocks soaring on Monday. Thursday’s introduction of the bill could potentially have the same effect.
SAFE Banking Seems To Have Broader Support
The bill was presented ahead of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, chaired by Booker being scheduled a meeting for July 26, with the title “Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms.”
Currently, most industry experts agree that the SAFE Banking Act, a bill that would enable marijuana businesses to access banking services has the most chances of passing the Senate and ending up on Biden’s desk.
Photo: Benzinga; Source: Pexels by Kindel Media and Paula Nardini
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