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Marijuana would be decriminalized under draft bill unveiled in Congress. What to know

Sen. Charles Schumer, (D-N.Y) makes opening remarks during a hearing attended by a panel of Department of Homeland Security senior officials. Jan. 20, 2016. (CBP Photo by Glenn Fawcett)

Senate Democrats on Wednesday unveiled a sweeping draft bill that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.

If passed, the legislation would deschedule cannabis, expunge many prior marijuana-related convictions, limit pot sales to up to 10 ounces and those 21 and older, and pave the way for additional research, among other things.

But it would also allow states to keep marijuana illegal on the state level.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon unveiled the legislation at a press conference Wednesday.

The legislation has not yet been officially introduced and will likely be altered from its current form.

It’s expected to face hurdles in the narrowly-divided Senate — where it would need 60 votes and therefore 10 Republicans if all Democrats vote in favor — to advance.

The bill would also need to pass in the House of Representatives and be signed into law by President Joe Biden, who has said in the past that he supports decriminalizing, but not legalizing, recreational marijuana.

A summary of the draft bill said it’s meant to “spur a robust discussion” as lawmakers work to create a final version of the legislation.

Here’s a look at what’s included in the draft legislation, which was first reported in full by Politico and Marijuana Moment.

Removing cannabis from controlled substances list

The draft bill would remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances.

Cannabis is currently listed as a Schedule I substance — along with other drugs like LSD, heroin and ecstasy — meaning it’s classified as having “no currently accepted medical use” and having a “high potential for abuse.”

Removing cannabis from the controlled substance list would be retroactive, meaning it would apply to “any offense committed, case pending,” or “conviction entered,” the draft bill says.

The draft bill also proposes transfering jurisdiction from the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which would redesignated as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Cannabis, Firearms and Explosives.

But the bill would still allow states to enforce their own marijuana-related laws, meaning they could continue to make marijuana possession illegal on the state level.

Transporting marijuana to a state where its possession is prohibited would be illegal. States, however, could not prevent cannabis from being transported or shipped through the state to another one where it is legal.

During the news conference, Schumer called the War on Drugs a “war on people.”

“The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act would help put an end the unfair targeting and treatment of communities of color by removing cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances,” he said.

Expunging criminal records, new grant programs

The draft bill would also provide for the expungement of non-violent, federal convictions related to cannabis.

It would require each federal district to, within a year, issue an order expunging “each conviction or adjudication of juvenile delinquency” for non-violent, cannabis-related offenses entered since May 1, 1971, and to expunge any arrests associated with those convictions.

The bill would allow those under a criminal sentence related to marijuana to request a sentencing review hearing.

It would also establish three grant programs.

The Community Reinvestment Grant would provide funding for services — including job training, reentry services, legal aid, literacy programs, youth recreation programs and health education programs — for “individuals adversely impacted by the War on Drugs,” according to the draft bill.

Another, the Cannabis Opportunity Grant Program, would provide funds to any eligible state or locality to provide loans to assist small cannabis businesses owned by “economically disadvantaged individuals.”

The third, the Equitable Licensing Grant Program, would provide eligible states and localities funding to “develop and implement equitable cannabis licensing programs that minimize barriers to cannabis licensing and employment for individuals adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.”

The draft points to the disproportionate impact cannabis laws have had on non-white people.

“People of color have been historically targeted by discriminatory sentencing practices, resulting in Black men receiving drug sentences that are 13.1 percent longer than sentences imposed for white men and Latinos being nearly 6.5 times more likely to receive a Federal sentence for cannabis possession than non-Hispanic whites,” the bill says.

Marijuana research

The bill would call on multiple government agencies to conduct cannabis-related research.

The Comptroller General of the United States would conduct research on the societal impacts of legalization, including impacts on traffic-related injuries and deaths and cannabis-related hospital visits.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would support research on the effects on the brain, the effects of medical marijuana on various conditions and on additional medical benefits of cannabis use.

Rules for possession

People under the age of 21 would not be allowed to buy marijuana under the legislation and sales would be limited to 10 ounces of weed at a time.

Cannabis products that contain alcohol, caffeine or nicotine would be illegal to sell or distribute.

The bill would also allow for cannabidiol, or CBD, to be marketed as a dietary supplement.

Taxing marijuana

The bill would also impose a gradual federal tax on marijuana sales — starting with 10% and increasing to 25% over four years. In the fifth year, it would be taxed by the ounce or by the milligram.

Producers who bring in less than $20 million a year in sales would be eligible for tax breaks.

Past legislation and public support

The draft legislation comes during larger discussions of marijuana legalization and decriminalization.

Thirty-seven states and Washington, D.C., have “adopted laws allowing legal access to cannabis” and 18 states and D.C. have adopted laws allowing for adult recreational use, the draft legislation says.

Additionally, a Gallup poll released in November 2020 found 68% of adults supported legalizing marijuana, a record-high percentage and up from 64%-66% between 2017 and 2019.

Earlier this year, the House passed a bill that would remove barriers for banks working with legal cannabis businesses. It also passed legislation similar to the draft bill in December that received some bipartisan support. The bill, however, died in the previous Congress, The New York Times reports.

House leaders have said they plan to pass an updated version of the bill soon, the Times reports.

But some Democratic lawmakers have said they’re opposed to fully legalizing marijuana nationwide, Politico reports.

In April, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden supports leaving most decisions about marijuana legalization up to states and reclassifying it as a Schedule II drug so researchers can further study its effects.

“At the federal level, he supports decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging any prior criminal records,” Psaki said. “He also supports legalizing medicinal marijuana.”


©2021 McClatchy Washington Bureau.

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