United States Senators Chuck Schumer, Cory Booker and Ron Wyden introduced a draft bill of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), which would effectively decriminalize cannabis in the United States, removing it from the Controlled Substances Act, but leaving states to implement their own regulations and policies.
It’s easy to get excited about news like this, but what does it mean? Will it actually happen? Let’s break down what it’s saying.
Legalization or Decriminalization?
Since so many states have already legalized cannabis in some form or another, the bill doesn’t mess with that, leaving policy decisions to state-level regulators. This means that the CAOA won’t legalize adult-use recreational cannabis in one sweeping motion, it just ends the federal prohibition of it. Not only that, but the bill would transfer federal control of cannabis from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with some oversight from The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
The bill also proposes a significant tax on cannabis products, starting at 10% in year one and graduating to 15%, 20%, and then capped at 25% in subsequent years, all on top of taxes at a state level. Despite assurances that these funds will be used for various social equity projects, critics of the bill have said that this tax is too high and will negatively affect the conversion rate from illicit to legal sources.
A large focus of the CAOA is social equity.
“By ending the failed federal prohibition of cannabis the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act will ensure that Americans, especially Black and Brown Americans, no longer have to fear arrest or be barred from public housing or federal financial aid for higher education for using cannabis in states where it’s legal,” the Act states.
It goes on to include restorative measures like the Opportunity Trust Fund to lift up communities and people who were negatively affected by the War on Drugs, and would automatically expunge federal non-violent cannabis charges and allow someone currently serving time in federal prison for non-violent cannabis charges to petition for resentencing.
Will It Happen?
In order for the bill to pass through the Senate, it needs the support of 60 senators—all 50 Democratic senators and at least 10 Republicans—which experts have said may be an uphill battle.
Despite recently dismissing staffers for a history of cannabis use, President Joe Biden’s White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told press at a briefing on 4/20 that, “The president supports leaving decisions regarding legalization for recreational use up to the states, rescheduling cannabis as a Schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts and, at the federal level, he supports decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging any prior criminal records.”
Experts say that it may not matter what President Biden thinks, though, because as long as the bill passes Congress, he’ll sign it, because he’s made a point to not stand in the way of passing bills into law.
Analysts in the United States wager that once a handful of Republicans are on board, the ball will keep rolling and the bill will go through, which is why industry lobbyists need to turn their efforts up to 11. High Tide, one of Canada’s largest cannabis companies with their fingers in pies south of the border, immediately expressed its support for the bill.
While the CAOA certainly has many positive points that could help many disenfranchised communities recover from the futile War on Drugs, but, is it too good to be true? Our neighbours to the south have generally had a hard time agreeing on things, so only time will tell how much of the bill will pass into law.