United States Sens. Cory Booker, Charles Schumer and Ron Wyden, all Democrats, released the draft of their federal cannabis legalization bill on July 14, dubbed the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.
The CAOA aims to remove cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances and seeks to remove all federal penalties for the substance, although it would allow states to prohibit possession, production and distribution of cannabis if local lawmakers chose to establish such laws.
Additionally, the CAOA would establish federal funding for research on public health and highway safety, applies a federal regulatory framework for interstate and international trade, and works to undo the damage that cannabis prohibition has caused to various communities.
“For decades, our federal government has waged a ‘War on Drugs’ that has unfairly impacted low-income communities and communities of color,” said Booker in a prepared statement on the legislation. “While red and blue states across the country continue to legalize marijuana, the federal government continues to lag woefully behind. It is time for congress to end the federal marijuana prohibition and reinvest in communities most impacted by the failed ‘War on Drugs.'”
At a virtual press conference Wednesday afternoon, Booker spoke of a time early on in his Senate career when he had meetings with families of children who had the seizure disorder Gervais syndrome, whose parents were “marijuana refugees” – those who to move states where cannabis is legal, so that their children can access it as medicine. In one of those meetings, a child fell into a seizure, which he noted was one of the more memorable things to happen during any of the meetings he’s had with constituents to this day.
Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition Chair Dasheeda Dawson, the cannabis program supervisor for the city of Portland, Ore., and a cannabis business consultant who has worked in New Jersey, noted that the bill is “the first serious look at cannabis legalization for the Senate” and said that she is “hopeful that the equity-centered policy reform and regulation led by our members at the state and local levels will continue to shape this historic bill.”
Ice Dawson, a cannabis advocate who has also worked in New Jersey and is host of She Blaze, an award winning podcast about cannabis from the female perspective, called it “a very cute first draft,” but said the bill is just “alright for now.”
“Advocates have to become even more active because the people should have an opportunity to contribute to this legislation. The bill needs to have a clear and precise policy on freeing the people first that were most be harmed by cannabis prohibition on the local, state, and federal levels. Patients and customers in all 50 states need automatic protection for using cannabis against all government bureaucracies, private employment and there are many ways this bill can move forward,” she said.
“We need a federal standard to truly normalize the plant,” she added.
In 2019, there were more cannabis related arrests than those for all violent crimes combined, Booker said in the conference.
“The hypocrisy of this is that right here in the Capital people running for [public office] readily admit that they’ve used marijuana. But we have children … veterans, Black and brown people, low income people … now bearing the stain of doing the things that half of the last four presidents admitted to have done,” Booker said.