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Senators Launch Long-Awaited Push On Cannabis Reform

July 26, 2022

Senate Democrats made good on their pledge to introduce a comprehensive cannabis reform bill last week when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, along with Senators Ron Wyden and Cory Booker, filed the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA). The bill has been in the works for close to a year since it was first shown in draft form last August. The final version reportedly contains revisions and feedback following more than 1,800 comments from stakeholders.

The CAOA would, first and foremost, remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and eliminate federal prohibitions in states that have legalized it. It would, however, retain those prohibitions on trafficking cannabis in violation of state law or in states that have not yet passed legalization. For regulation, the bill transfers federal jurisdiction over cannabis from the DEA to the FDA and TTB and implements a regulatory regime similar to alcohol and tobacco while establishing a Center for Cannabis Products with the FDA to regulate production, labeling, distribution, sales, and other manufacturing and retail elements. It eliminates the tax code’s 280E restriction that prevents standard business deductions within the industry. The bill also includes language on research initiatives, restorative justice, and workers’ rights.

“The question today is no longer whether cannabis should be legal—many states have already made that decision on their own initiative. The question is whether cannabis should be subject to the same high regulatory standards that apply to alcohol and tobacco,” Schumer, Booker and Wyden wrote. “Americans have made their voices heard across the country, through their ballot boxes, their legislatures and with their dollars: the War on Drugs has failed, and it’s time for lawmakers in Washington to respect the rights of states that have chosen to legalize cannabis.”

The CAOA is now gaining adherents. Senators Patty Murray of Washington State and Gary Peters of Michigan signed on as sponsors after its introduction, raising its official sponsors to five, all of whom hail from states that have legalized recreational cannabis. Murray’s statement was notable because even as she threw her weight behind the CAOA she called for the passage of the SAFE Banking Act “however possible–including as a standalone bill.”

Despite the growing enthusiasm, the CAOA’s path to passage will require it to garner the 60 votes required to defeat a Republican filibuster, almost surely dooming its chances in the deadlocked chamber.—Danny Sullivan

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