US Senate Democrats Launch Renewed Push for Full Legalization of Marijuana • Michigan Advance

Leading Democrats in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday reintroduced a bill to remove marijuana from the list of federal controlled substances, following the Biden administration’s decision a day earlier to significantly loosen regulations on the drug.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden of Oregon and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey applauded the Justice Department’s announcement at a news conference Wednesday that it would move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III under the federally controlled Substances Act.

But they said it didn’t solve problems, including racial discrimination, caused by a federal ban.

Instead, they promoted a bill that would completely remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, while adding new federal regulations and oversight.

The bill “will help our country close the book once and for all on the terrible, harmful and failed war on drugs, which too often has been nothing more than a war on Americans of color,” Schumer said. “In short, our bill is about individual freedom and fundamental justice.”

Most Americans believe cannabis should be legalized, Schumer said.

The measure announced Tuesday by the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration will loosen some of the toughest restrictions on marijuana use under Schedule I, which lists the most dangerous and easiest to abuse drugs without any medicinal value.

Schedule III medications, including Tylenol with codeine and anabolic steroids, may be studied and dispensed under certain guidelines.

DOJ isn’t moving enough, Democrats say

Tuesday’s announcement from the Justice Department did not go far enough, the trio said at a news conference on Wednesday, and should be seen as a potential launching pad for further reforms.

“We want to disabuse people of the idea that because the White House moved yesterday that things have come to a standstill here in the United States Congress,” Wyden said. “I see this as an opportunity to gain new momentum for our bill, for action on Capitol Hill.”

Fifteen other Democrats in the Senate co-sponsored the bill.

Communities of color and small businesses

The senators said that even as many states have legalized medicinal or recreational use, the federal ban has disproportionately harmed communities of color.

“I think it’s a big step that the Biden administration is moving in the direction of not making it a Schedule I drug — the absurdity of that is outrageous,” Booker said. “But honestly, the bill we are reintroducing today is the solution to this long, painful, hypocritical and, frankly, unevenly enforced series of bad laws.”

The federal ban has also blocked tax breaks for marijuana-related businesses, including small independent businesses that Wyden, chairman of the Tax Returns Finance Committee, said he is eager to help.

Wyden said he was excited about a provision in the bill to give state-legal marijuana businesses access to a common tax credit that allows small businesses to deduct business expenses.

Because marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance, the federal tax credit is not allowed, even for businesses operating with a state license. Wyden said small, independent businesses are “really getting beat up” under the current system. He indicated his committee would look at more ways to reduce the tax burden on “small mom-and-pop” businesses.

Senators did not answer a question about whether the legalization bill should be considered in conjunction with a separate bill to give state legal marijuana businesses greater access to the banking system. Many banks refuse to do business with marijuana companies for fear that they will be punished as accomplices in the drug trade.

New regulatory framework

The bill would automatically expunge federal marijuana-related convictions, direct the Department of Housing and Urban Development to create a program to help people who have lost access to housing benefits due to marijuana convictions, and establish a Cannabis Justice Office within the US Department of Justice.

It would direct funding to an Opportunity Trust Fund to help people and individuals “hardest hit by the failed War on Drugs,” according to a summary from Schumer’s office. It would not allow possession of cannabis to be used against non-citizens in immigration proceedings and deny other federal benefits to people who use the drug.

While the bill would remove cannabis from regulation under the Controlled Substances Act, it would add new federal oversight, making the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau the federal agency with jurisdiction over the drug.

The bill would establish a federal Cannabis Products Center to regulate production, sales, distribution and other elements of the cannabis industry, direct the Food and Drug Administration to set labeling standards and create programs to prevent marijuana use among youth.

It would also maintain a federal ban on marijuana trafficking outside legal markets, ask the Department of Transportation to develop standards for driving under the influence of cannabis and have the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration collect data and create educational materials about drunk driving of cannabis.