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US Senate to consider longshot legalization bill

Cannabis advocates around the country are watching with rapt attention as Senate Democrats discuss plans for a federal marijuana decriminalization plan, Bloomberg News reports. It is unclear whether the chamber, nearly evenly divided, will allow for the development of such legislation over the next few weeks as Democrats introduce their plan.

After circulating last year, a draft of the bill has recently been revisited and revised with the intent to introduce it on the Senate floor in the coming weeks.

Senators Ron Wyden (D) and Cory Booker (D) worked alongside Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D) to make the needed changes before settling on a final version of the bill, now called the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act. The lawmakers have collaborated with several experts and key committees over the past year as they’ve worked to revise this piece of legislation.

According to one source, Wyden and Booker are introducing the bill with the intent of both decriminalizing marijuana for recreational adult use and making the marketplace a more equitable place for producers which have historically been disproportionately disadvantaged. Schumer was quoted as saying he hoped to introduce the bill before the upcoming August recess.

The legislation creates provisions for the states to maintain their own regulations for the production and distribution of marijuana while simultaneously removing cannabis from the list of drugs regulated by the Controlled Substances Act.

If passed, the bill would call for the expunging of all federal non-violent cannabis-related convictions and arrests within a year of its enactment.

It would also introduce initiatives which provide funding to those individuals and communities which are most affected by drug offenses. Additionally, it would provide small cannabis businesses with loans and other funding opportunities.

Following the recent announcement of this proposed legislation, shares of marijuana stock have increased in volumes. American multi-state cannabis producer Green Thumb Industries has experienced its highest climb in a one-month period. Additionally, Canadian producers have increased astronomically; Tilray Brands Inc. had a 20% increase (the company’s biggest jump in a four-month period) and Canopy Growth has experienced an 11% increase in stock value.

The pending legislation has not been good news for everyone. Because it has taken so long for the bill to reach the Senate floor, some US cannabis distributors’ stock prices have taken a dive while investors and brokers await the green light from the Senate. One company, the ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF, has experienced a 48% decrease in its stock value as lawmakers take their time with the upcoming proposal.

The bill is a product of a House vote earlier this year which effectively decriminalized marijuana, created a tax system for the import of cannabis products, and sought to expunge federal convictions on marijuana-related charges. This decriminalization narrowly passed in the house, with three Republicans in support and two Democrats against.

In fact, the CAOA has been in the works since the bill passed in the House in April of this year. It is unclear whether the bill will receive the 60 votes that are needed for it to pass in the Senate, which is evenly split.

Because of the Democrats’ thin majority, lawmakers are unsure of the CAOA’s chances of success. The bill will need overwhelming support from Senate Democrats, in addition to a few Republican votes, as well. Because the legislation proposes a removal of cannabis products from the schedule one list, Democrats will have to do what they can to earn reluctant Republican votes if they hope to pass it.

In addition to creating new regulations for the federal approach to marijuana production and use, the CAOA would aim to create a more competitive and equitable cannabis marketplace. Many smaller cannabis producers have voiced concerns about the larger and pre-established tobacco and alcohol corporations holding an unfair grasp on the market. Schumer and other Senate Democrats are doing what they can to restrict such activity from larger corporations in the lawmakers’ more recent revisions of the bill.

On the whole, GOP support for the bill is nebulous, as the legislation promises social equity advances in terms of expungement while also toting a plan to establish a fair marketplace. Some have noted a likely scenario where the Senate passes a version of the bill which establishes all the aims of the original CAOA (marijuana research, Small Business Administration, etc.) without actually removing cannabis from the list of drugs regulated by the Controlled Substances Act.

There have, however, been several instances of Republican and Democratic coordination over decriminalization and expungement in the past. One such instance occurred last year, when South Carolina Rep. Nance Mace (R) filed a bill which sought to give states authority to regulate decriminalization practices in a manner reminiscent of the CAOA.

Additionally, earlier this year, Ohio Rep. Dave Joyce (R) and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) collaborated on a reform bill which would encourage expungement of cannabis-related charges on a federal level.

It is clear that there are many steps to be taken before marijuana products are available for decriminalized, recreational adult use on a federal level. Besides the narrow margin Democrats must maintain in order to pass the bill before the August recess, the bill will ultimately require support from President Biden.

The president has historically been an opponent of recreational adult-use of marijuana products on a federal scale, despite his party’s support for marijuana legislation reform in recent years. It is unclear whether the president will rethink his approach to federal decriminalization amid Democrats’ calls for updated cannabis policy.

In any case, lawmakers and cannabis advocates alike will have much to consider in the coming weeks as the Cannabis Administrative and Opportunity Act is introduced on the Senate floor. Many expect Schumer and his supporters to propose a bill very soon, though he has not provided a specific date. All eyes will be on Senators Wyden, Booker, and other Senate Democrats as they seek to introduce what could very well be the most progressive piece of marijuana legislation in years.

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