Making good on this April 20th announcement, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced legislation that would upend current federal regulation of marijuana. Specifically, the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act removes marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act, effectively decriminalizing it at the federal level. Under the bill, states would continue to have individual authority to regulate marijuana but federal authorities would be able to prevent trafficking between states where the substance is legal to where it is not and to oversee advertising to the extent necessary to prevent targeting ads to children. Co-sponsors include Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).
Highlights of the proposed legislation, per the Fact Sheet, include the following:
- Decriminalize Marijuana: The legislation would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level by descheduling it, which means removing marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act of 1970;
- Respect States’ Rights: The legislation would maintain federal law enforcement’s authority to prevent marijuana trafficking from states that have legalized marijuana to those that have not;
- Level The Economic Playing Field: The legislation would establish dedicated funding streams to be administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) for women and minority-owned marijuana businesses that would be determinant on a reasonable estimate of the total amount of revenue generated by the marijuana industry;
- Ensure Public Safety: The legislation would authorize $250 million over five years for targeted investments in highway safety research to ensure federal agencies have the resources they need to assess the pitfalls of driving under the influence of THC and develop technology to reliably measure impairment;
- Invest In Public Health: The legislation would invest $500 million across five years for the Secretary of Health and Human Services to work in close coordination with the Director of National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Commissioner of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in order to better understand the impact of marijuana, including the effects of THC on the human brain and the efficacy of marijuana as a treatment for specific ailments;
- Protect Children: The legislation would maintain the Department of Treasury’s authority to regulate marijuana advertising in the same way it does tobacco advertising to ensure the marijuana businesses aren’t allowed to target children in their advertisements. The bill also allows the agency to impose penalties in the case of violations;
- Incentive sealing and Expungement programs: The legislation authorizes grant programs to encourage state and local governments to administer, adopt, or enhance expungement or sealing programs for marijuana possession convictions. The bill provides $100 million over five years to the DOJ to carry out this purpose.
While this bill has Democratic support, it remains to be seen whether Republicans will back it or whether the President would sign it. (We recently wrote here about the President’s stated intent to sign the bipartisan/bicameral STATES Act, which would protect state regulation of marijuana.) Less than two years ago, DEA denied two petitions to reschedule marijuana. Sen. Schumer’s bill would address that legislatively but, unless DEA has changed its thinking, it seems likely to face opposition from that agency and from Attorney General Sessions, who has made his opposition to marijuana legalization well-known. Stay tuned here for updates on the bill’s progress.