News & Politics

Legalize Weed: Democrats Propose a New Senate Bill That Could Make It Real

Today, a promise made on the stoner holiday 4/20 is actually remembered: Senate leader Chuck Schumer has proposed new legislation that would legalize the use and sale of weed nationwide. “I believe the time has come to end the federal prohibition on marijuana in this country—and I am working with Senators [Cory] Booker and [Ron] Wyden on legislation to do just that,” Schumer said in April. Enter: the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.

The proposed legislation, which the Democratic senators released as a “discussion draft,” meaning it’s not yet a formal bill, would overhaul the government’s entire approach to the drug. Working with the Food and Drug Administration and the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, the proposal would decriminalize it and allow for regulating and taxing weed sales. Canna-businesses would be able to fully access banking resources, which have been severely limited due to the confusing current system of a state legalized but federally criminalized product. Another major provision would prioritize medical research that has long been stifled by the strict regulations around cannabis testing.

With the big tax revenue that the government is eyeing—last year saw nearly $20 billion in sales nationwide—the proposed legislation aims to direct funds toward restorative justice efforts. It includes expunging criminal records for non-violent cannabis convictions and setting up a process for courts to reconsider sentences for people currently incarcerated for cannabis crimes. The act also proposes an arm of the Justice Department to specifically address these legal issues to support incarcerated folks through job training and assistance after their release.

On the economic front, the legislation would also fund a program to provide loans to small weed businesses with owners who are Black, Latinx, and others coming from historically policed and marginalized communities. In DC alone, the gray area of legalization (thanks, Initiative 71) has still led to an overwhelming number of Black Washingtonians who have been arrested for weed-related crimes.

This isn’t the first time that Congress has shown motion on cannabis legalization. Last December, the House of Representatives passed a similar bill that House leaders say they will revisit this year to push an updated version. Close to 70 percent of Americans favor legalizing cannabis, according to a Gallup Poll from November 2020. But the road to putting it into law will be an uphill challenge. Democrats will need to convince at least ten Republican Senators, not to mention getting their own party on the same page. President Joe Biden has been notably hesitant on the issue (in previous statements he’s expressed support for decriminalizing, not legalizing) and earlier this year his administration was criticized for suspending and firing staffers who had a history of previous weed use. If Schumer gets the Senate to pass the law, then, the big question will be if Biden will take the joint and roll with it.

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Web Producer/Writer

Rosa joined Washingtonian in 2016 after graduating from Mount Holyoke College. She covers arts and culture for the magazine. She’s written about anti-racism efforts at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, dinosaurs in the revamped fossil hall at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, and the horrors of taking a digital detox. When she can, she performs with her family’s Puerto Rican folkloric music ensemble based in Jersey City. She lives in Adams Morgan.