Schumer, Dems unveil plan to legalize weed nationwide; advocate predicts ‘days of federal prohibition are numbered’

Like Illinois’ legalization law, the measure looks to address the disproportionate harms of the drug war and to bolster equity in the overwhelmingly white weed industry.

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The outline of the proposed Cannabis Administration & Opportunity Act to solicit input from the public has been released.

The outline of the proposed Cannabis Administration & Opportunity Act to solicit input from the public has been released.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

A sweeping proposal unveiled Wednesday aims to lift the nationwide prohibition on pot and create new federal regulations as the number of states with some form of legal cannabis continues to grow.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and fellow Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) released the outline of the proposed Cannabis Administration & Opportunity Act to solicit input from the public. The “discussion draft” obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times most notably includes plans to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, a move advocates and pot lovers have endorsed for years.

The leaders of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, an influential nonprofit that has pushed to ease pot laws for over a half-century, responded with a bold declaration: “The days of federal prohibition are numbered.”

“It is time for legislators to comport federal law with the laws of the growing number of states that have legalized the plant, and it is time for lawmakers to facilitate a federal structure that allows for cannabis commerce so that responsible consumers can obtain high-quality, low-cost cannabis grown right here in America without fear of arrest and incarceration,” executive director Erik Altieri said in a statement Wednesday.

The proposal comes just over seven months after the House of Representatives approved the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, marking the first time a chamber of Congress voted to end pot prohibition. The bill later died in the Senate, though an updated version was later reintroduced in the House.

Like Illinois’ legalization law, the Cannabis Administration & Opportunity Act looks to address the disproportionate harms of the drug war and to bolster equity in the overwhelmingly white weed industry.

The bill would automatically expunge nonviolent cannabis convictions handed down in federal court and allow those serving time for applicable crimes to petition for new sentences. Grant programs would also be created to fund nonprofits that provide services to those adversely impacted by past drug policies, aid programs pushing for equitable licensing and make loans to small cannabis businesses.

The plan also opens the door to much-needed cannabis research and allows individuals to legally use cannabis without potentially being barred from public housing or denied federal financial aid for college.

As with alcohol sales, the proposal sets the age limit for purchasing cannabis at 21. Retail sales would be capped at 10 ounces of cannabis flower, or the equivalent amount of any derivative, which is far greater than the purchasing limits Illinois has instituted for both recreational and medical buyers.

But the measure would still recognize and defer to state cannabis laws, meaning states would still need to implement their own legislation and regulate sales.

It would, however, open up state borders for cannabis-related commerce, a move that could help streamline and grow the nascent industry. Licensed cannabis firms would also score another big win and “finally be treated like other businesses” that have access to vital financial services, like bank accounts and loans.

But companies selling and producing pot would have to obtain permits from the federal government to operate. What’s more, they’d be subject to a hefty new federal excise tax that would jump from 10% in the first year to 25% in the fourth and fifth years.

Smaller firms with less than $20 million in sales would be eligible for a tax credit that cuts those rates in half. And pot producers with more sales would be eligible for a tax credit on their first $20 million sold each year, with sales above that subject to the normal rate.

Read the entire “discussion draft” below. Comments can be submitted to Cannabis_Reform@finance.senate.gov.

Download the proposal here: CAOA Detailed Summary - Web Cover.pdf

Contributing: Lynn Sweet

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