US Democrats unveil draft of federal cannabis legalisation bill

14th July 2021

The first draft of a cannabis reform bill, proposed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, alongside Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden and Senator Cory Booker has finally been released. The proposed legislation has been eagerly awaited for months, with details remaining scarce until now.

The proposed bill, named the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, has been released as a discussion draft – designed to spark conversation and debate with Congress as well as the public prior to the submission of the final legislative proposal later this year.

Proposals laid out in the draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act include the federal decriminalisation and de-scheduling of cannabis and the implementation of provisions for communities most affected by the War on Drugs. In addition, the document proposes that cannabis should be regulated and taxed in a similar way to alcohol and tobacco.

According to the discussion draft, the legislation would introduce a 10% tax on cannabis products which would increase to 25% within five years after the bill becomes law.

In a press statement, Senator Cory Brooker (D-NJ), a co-sponsor of the bill, said: “For decades, our federal government has waged a War on Drugs that has unfairly impacted low-income communities and communities of colour.

“While red and blue states across the country continue to legalize marijuana, the federal government continues to lag woefully behind. It is time for Congress to end the federal marijuana prohibition and reinvest in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs.

I am proud to introduce this landmark piece of legislation with Senator Wyden and Majority Leader Schumer that will finally turn the page on this dark chapter in American history and begin righting these wrongs.”

Recent polls have suggested that over two-thirds of US citizens now support the legalisation of cannabis. Furthermore, around one-third of Americans now live in a state where recreational, adult-use cannabis is legal.

Despite the ongoing legalisation of cannabis and the success of the sector, evidence has shown that communities that have been disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs are currently benefitting the least from the new industry.

The Senators write in the legislative draft that this is part of “a legacy of racial and ethnic injustices, compounded by the disproportionate collateral consequences of 80 years of cannabis prohibition enforcement.”

It continues: “The continued enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws results in over 600,000 arrests annually, disproportionately impacting people of colour who are almost 4 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than their white counterparts, despite equal rated of use across populations.”

Evidence has also demonstrated that Black men who are arrested for drug offences receive 13.1% longer sentences in comparison to White men. Furthermore, the bill points out that “Latinos [are] nearly 6.5 times more likely to receive a Federal sentence for cannabis possession than non-Hispanic Whites.”

In addition to federal decriminalisation, the bill would also introduce the expungement of federal non-violent cannabis crimes such as possession and supply. Furthermore, people who are serving a prison sentence for these crimes would be able to petition for re-sentencing.

Other social justice measures included in the bill include funnelling a portion of the revenue raised through cannabis taxes into reinvestment in communities most impacted by the War on Drugs and supporting cannabis entrepreneurs from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

It remains unclear whether the proposed bill will gain enough support from lawmakers to become law, however, there is growing support for cannabis reform in both major political parties.

Thirty-seven stated, in addition to Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands, now allow the medical use of cannabis. In addition, the recreational use of the drug is now legal in 18 states, plus D.C, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

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