Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer introduced legislation Wednesday that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level by removing it from the government’s list of controlled substances.
“The time to decriminalize marijuana is now,” Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat, said in a statement touting his proposed Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act. “This legislation is simply the right thing to do, and I am hopeful that the balanced approach it takes can earn bipartisan support in Congress and across the country.”
Marijuana is federally listed under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule 1 narcotic, a category reserved for “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” The plant can be legally used and purchased in more than half the country, however, thanks to a patchwork of medical and recreational marijuana laws in place in 29 states and counting.
While the Trump administration has refrained so far from interfering in states with legal marijuana, Mr. Schumer’s bill would give the government fewer reasons to intervene by removing the plant from its list of controlled substances, albeit while maintaining the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s authorities to prevent illegal interstate trafficking.
Additionally, the bill would create dedicated funding for women- and minority-owned marijuana businesses, invest $750 million toward highway safety and public health research, give the Treasury Department approval to regulate marijuana advertising, and allocate $100 million in grants for state and local governments that expunge the criminal records of people convicted for marijuana possession.
“This bill is a welcomed shift of policy from Democratic Party leadership,” said Justin Strekal, the political director of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, a pro-legalization group. “The importance of this bill’s emphasis on facilitating the expungement the criminal records of individuals for marijuana possession cannot be overstated. Millions of individuals have suffered from the lifelong collateral consequences of criminal prohibition, making it harder for them to find a job, obtain housing, and access higher education,” he said in a statement.
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The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, Illinois Democrat.
“Far too many Americans are currently incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses, and they are disproportionally people of color, despite the fact that African-Americans and Caucasians use marijuana at the same rates,” Ms. Duckworth said. “For years, the federal government has permitted states to determine their own policies regarding marijuana, and we’ve seen those states’ economies grow while justice and fairness have improved as well.”
The Marijuana Justice Act, a similar but further-reaching bill introduced last August by Sen. Cory Booker, New Jersey Democrat, would also remove marijuana from the country’s list of federally controlled substances in addition to retroactively expunge prior cannabis convictions. A companion bill was introduced in the House in January by Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat, and together the two have garnered the support of 46 co-sponsors between both chambers.
Meanwhile, Oklahomans voted Tuesday to become the 30th state to legalize medical marijuana. The state Department of Health said Wednesday that it plans to begin the permitting process later in the summer for patients and businesses.