Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling on Congress to decriminalize marijuana nationwide and allow individual states to decide their own cannabis laws moving forward.
“The time to decriminalize marijuana is now,” Senator Schumer said while introducing a bill that would do just that. “The new Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act is about giving states the freedom to be the laboratories that they should be and giving Americans – especially women and minority business owners as well as those convicted of simple possession of marijuana intended for personal use - the opportunity to succeed in today’s economy."
Schumer also called on his colleagues in the Senate to put politics aside and support the bill simply because it's "the right thing to do."
"And I am hopeful that the balanced approach it takes can earn bipartisan support in Congress and across the country,” he added.
Despite those hopes of a bipartisan effort, the bill hasn't received support from Republicans yet. Right now, it is being co-sponsored by some familiar faces on the left side of the political aisle: Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).
What the Bill Does
If passed, the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, where it is currently listed as a drug that has no medicinal benefits and is as dangerous as heroin. That move would end federal prohibition, but it wouldn't legalize marijuana nationwide. Instead, federal decriminalization would allow individual states to continue reforming their marijuana laws - as Colorado, California and seven others have done in recent years. But unlike before, those states would no longer have to operate under the possibility that Jeff Sessions or another attorney general would sick the DEA on them for violating the Controlled Substances Act.
The bill would also uphold the authority of federal law enforcers to prevent trafficking between states. So if a jurisdiction like Arizona wants to uphold cannabis prohibition, the feds would help them stop flower, edibles and other banned products from crossing the border with neighboring states like California.
The bill would also preserve the federal government's ability to regulate marijuana advertising to ensure that marketers don't release ads that target children. That regulation might sound too restrictive, but keep in mind that the feds already have that authority over tobacco ads. That's why you don't see Fred and Barney smoking cigarettes on TV anymore.
The 'opportunity' part of the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act refers to measures that would help communities that have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition. The bill would create a new funding stream intended to help women and minorities start their own cannabis business. And it would establish grant programs designed to encourage local governments to help residents seal or expunge convictions for cannabis possession. The bill also includes $500 million in investments to fund research projects on the effect THC has on driving, as well as public health in general. To keep the roads safe, Schumer's bill authorizes $250 million to be spent over five years on highway safety.
Will It Pass?
Those regulations sound great, but they don't mean much if Senator Schumer can't get the bill passed. For years, Congress has been a graveyard for cannabis legislation, and reformers have had very little luck with getting anything through the House and Senate - even a bill that would let state-regulated cannabis companies do something as simple as open bank accounts.
But at the same time, Congress is more open to debating marijuana reform than ever. Last year, a group of lawmakers formed the Cannabis Caucus to promote reform in the House and the Senate. Since then, prominent lawmakers (and potential presidential candidates) like Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have come out in support of changing America's cannabis laws. Meanwhile, some former opponents have become unlikely allies. We're talking about Utah Senator Orrin Hatch (R), who called out the federal government for obstructing cannabis research that could help Americans from coast to coast. And Senator Tim Kaine - who has gone from speaking out against decriminalization to co-sponsoring Schumer's decriminalization bill.
So anyone can turn a new leaf when it comes to cannabis reform. But only time will tell if Schumer's bill is the endgame for legalization or just another crucial step in the long journey toward repealing prohibition in America.