18 US Senators File Federal Legislation to Legalize Marijuana and Enable Expungements

A coalition of 18 United States senators have filed legislation to deschedule and legalize marijuana.

Today, led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) was filed by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Gary Peters (D-MI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Peter Welch (D-VT), John Fetterman (D-PA), and Laphonza Butler (D-CA).

The CAOA would require the US attorney general to finalize rules removing marijuana as a controlled substance within 180 days of the bill’s passage. The measure would also place a 5% federal excise tax on marijuana producers that would increase to 12.5% by the fifth year, and it would establish the Center for Cannabis Products within the FDA, tasked with regulating “the production, labeling, distribution, sales and other manufacturing and retail elements of the cannabis industry”.

“It’s past time for the federal government to catch up to the attitudes of the American people when it comes to cannabis,” said Leader Schumer. “That’s why we’re reintroducing the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, legislation that would finally end the federal prohibition on cannabis while prioritizing safety, research, workers’ rights and restorative justice. We have more work to do to address decades of over-criminalization, particularly in communities of color, but today’s reintroduction shows the movement is growing, and I will keep working until we achieve meaningful change.”

Under the CAOA states would have the authority to ban marijuana sales, but they could not prohibit interstate or interjurisdictional transportation of marijuana and marijuana products. The measure would also make it so that no one could be denied federal benefits for using or possessing marijuana, or if they’ve been previously convicted of a marijuana-related offense. Federal employment marijuana testing would also be banned in most instances.

“Our comprehensive Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act doesn’t tell states what to do—but it provides them with the tools to effectively implement the laws their voters and legislators choose,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR). “Public health, public safety, opportunity and social justice must be at the core of any cannabis reform proposal, and it’s crucial stakeholders continue to have a seat at the table. I look forward to working with my colleagues and advocates across the country to make these priorities a reality.”

The measure is almost a companion bill to the MORE Act, which was filed in the House of Representatives last April. That bill, having 87 sponsors, would also deschedule marijuana and establish a federal excise tax. Additionally, it would allow for marijuana expungements. However, unlike the CAOA, it would not legalize marijuana or set up a regulatory system.

Filing of the bill, which was initially planned for 4/20 but was delayed to allow time for addition cosponsors to join, comes just a day after the Biden Administration announced it’s moving marijuana to Schedule III.

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