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Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act introduced to federally decriminalize cannabis

May 23, 2019

Two companion bills were introduced Monday, the goal of which is to remove marijuana from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Controlled Substances list. The measures, collectively titled “Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act” were introduced by New Yorkers, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. Four of the 2020 presidential candidates have already signed on as sponsors.

If the bills pass, in addition to removing cannabis from the list of controlled substances, it would earmark some of the tax revenue from marijuana sales for grants to socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals who wish to be a part of the fast growing cannabis industry. The bills would also support efforts to expunge past marijuana convictions.

The four Democratic candidates who have signed on as sponsors include Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

Some of the candidates that have not signed on as sponsors, so far, include senators Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, and Michael Bennet, along with representatives Eric Swalwell, Seth Moulton, and Tim Ryan, all of whom have publicly expressed their support for federal cannabis reform, and some of whom have introduced legislation of their own. It’s not known whether or not they intend to sign on in support of the new bills.

[Biden campaign expresses support for decriminalizing marijuana]

Other bills are also being floated in Washington, including the SAFE Banking Act—an attempt to solve the banking crisis in the cannabis industry, which has already passed out of one committee—and the Marijuana Justice Act introduced by Sen. Booker, which also aims to amend the Controlled Substances Act. Sponsors of the measure include candidates Sen. Wyden, Sen. Warren, Sen. Harris, Sen. Gillibrand, and Sen. Sanders.

The new legislation’s author Sen. Schumer has a past track record of being against federal cannabis policy reform. However, in an announcement about the bills, Schumer said, “It’s about time we decriminalize marijuana. We’ve seen with medical use, the states are working. Some of the states have already legalized, and it’s working well there. So what we’re saying is very simple: let each state do what it wants. There’s not going to be the heavy hand of the federal government telling you you can’t.”

[California cannabis charter banks bill moves forward while the nation calls for federal action]

Under the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, money would also be reserved for cannabis research, with a focus on public safety concerns such as the drug’s effects on drivers.

“Legislative relief must come sooner rather than later. Over 650,000 Americans—disproportionately black, brown, young, and poor—are arrested for violating marijuana laws annually. Those without the means to defend themselves from the state bear the greatest burden and lifelong consequences of this ongoing failed federal policy. The importance of this bill’s emphasis on facilitating the expunging of individual criminal records for marijuana possession cannot be overstated. Millions of Americans have suffered from the lifelong collateral consequences of criminal prohibition, making it harder for them to find a job, obtain housing, and access higher education.” — Justin Strekal, political director, NORML

According to the announcement on the Senate Democrats website, should it pass, the legislation would have the following effects:

  • Decriminalize Marijuana: The legislation would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level by descheduling it, which means removing marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act of 1970;

  • Respect States’ Rights: The legislation would maintain federal law enforcement’s authority to prevent marijuana trafficking from states that have legalized marijuana to those that have not;

  • Level The Economic Playing Field: The legislation would establish dedicated funding streams to be administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) for women and minority-owned marijuana businesses that would be determinant on a reasonable estimate of the total amount of revenue generated by the marijuana industry;

  • Ensure Public Safety: The legislation would authorize $250 million over five years for targeted investments in highway safety research to ensure federal agencies have the resources they need to assess the pitfalls of driving under the influence of THC and develop technology to reliably measure impairment;

  • Invest In Public Health: The legislation would invest $500 million across five years for the Secretary of Health and Human Services to work in close coordination with the Director of National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Commissioner of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in order to better understand the impact of marijuana, including the effects of THC on the human brain and the efficacy of marijuana as a treatment for specific ailments;

  • Protect Children: The legislation would maintain the Department of Treasury’s authority to regulate marijuana advertising in the same way it does tobacco advertising to ensure the marijuana businesses aren’t allowed to target children in their advertisements. The bill also allows the agency to impose penalties in the case of violations;

  • Incentive sealing and Expungement programs: The legislation authorizes grant programs to encourage state and local governments to administer, expand, or develop expungement or sealing programs for marijuana possession convictions. The bill provides $100 million over five years to the DOJ to carry out this purpose.

Details of the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act bill can be found here:

(Video Source: YouTube)
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