Schumer Proposes Federal Decriminalization of Marijuana

The Democrats’ bill proposes empowering the Food and Drug Administration and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau at the Treasury Department to begin regulating the production, distribution and sale of marijuana, removing the Drug Enforcement Administration from its current oversight role. Among other implications, the changes would allow marijuana companies already operating in states where it is legal to gain full access to the United States banking system and claim federal tax deductions for business expenses.

The legislation would gradually institute a federal excise tax like the one on alcohol and tobacco sales, eventually as high as 25 percent for big businesses, allowing the federal government to benefit from sales that came close to $20 billion in 2020. The revenue would then be funneled back to communities most affected by federal drug policy and to fund expanded medical research into cannabis that is currently limited by its status as a controlled substance.

One provision, for instance, would establish a cannabis justice office at the Justice Department to help fund job training, legal aid and help with re-entry after incarceration. Another program would promote loans to small cannabis businesses owned by members of racially or economically marginalized groups to try to ensure that communities that suffered disproportionately under the war on drugs are not left out of the gold rush that has accompanied legalization.

But the bill would aim to make other, more direct attempts to compensate for the effects of years of aggressive policing. In addition to expunging past arrests and convictions, it would entitle those who are currently serving sentences for nonviolent federal drug crime to a court hearing to reconsider their sentences. And the federal government would no longer be able to discriminate against marijuana users seeking federal housing, food or health benefits.

“The hypocrisy of this is that right here in the Capitol now people running for Congress, people running for Senate, people running for president of the United States readily admit that they’ve used marijuana,” Mr. Booker said. “But we have children in this country, people all over this country — our veterans, Black and brown people, low-income people — now bearing the stain of having a criminal conviction for doing things that half of the last four presidents admit to doing.”

The Democratic-led House passed similar legislation in December, with a handful of Republicans joining to vote in favor. The vote was the first and only time either chamber had endorsed the legalization of cannabis, but the bill died at the end of the last Congress. House leaders plan to pass an updated version in the coming months.

Passage through the Senate is likely to be more tricky. Mr. Schumer would need to assemble 60 votes, meaning he would need the support of at least 10 Republicans. Though libertarian-leaning Republicans have generally supported ending the prohibition of marijuana, party leaders are likely to oppose the Democrats’ plan, particularly with its emphasis on restorative justice and government intervention in the cannabis industry.

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