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Senate introduces legislation to lift federal prohibitions on marijuana

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Over 50 years after Congress outlawed the drug, weed may soon see decriminalization

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act. The Act would decriminalize marijuana on the federal level and allow states to set their own laws around weed. Nineteen states currently allow anyone at least 21 years old to possess and use the marijuana, and 37 states have medical marijuana programs.

Competing federal and state laws regarding marijuana have created a legal gray area for businesses operating in states where marijuana is legal. The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act is intended to address that tension by eliminating federal prohibition.

According to ABC News, this is "the first time in history” that senators have “introduced a bill to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and remove cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances.” Marijuana decriminalization has long been championed by Schumer, who proposed a similar bill, the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, in 2019. Politico reports that marijuana legalization has been a top priority for Schumer over the last two years.

In addition to decriminalizing cannabis, the Act expunges existing federal cannabis-related records and creates funding for law enforcement departments to fight illegal cannabis cultivation.

If passed, the Act would represent yet another win for states’ rights advocates. In June, the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, leaving the decision to prohibit or allow abortions to state legislatures and courts.

Polling has consistently shown that most Americans support some form of marijuana legalization. Last year, Pew Research Center found that “an overwhelming share of U.S. adults (91%) say either that marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use (60%) or that it should be legal for medical use only (31%). Fewer than one-in-ten (8%) say marijuana should not be legal for use by adults.”

However, the bill is not expected to pass this year. Politico reports that a number of Democratic senators are against legalization or are undecided, including Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.). Schumer would need every Democratic senator, plus ten Republicans, for the bill to pass. And even if the bill were to pass, President Biden continues to state that he does not support federal legalization.

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