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Bill to legalize cannabis nationwide introduced in Senate

By Pedro Oliveira Jr.
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Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks at the New York Cannabis Parade and Rally in Union Square in New York City on May 7. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/9d764793ba11f7b6a7b624ea13a19595/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks at the New York Cannabis Parade and Rally in Union Square in New York City on May 7. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

July 21 (UPI) -- Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer is hoping to reignite the fire to legalize marijuana nationwide.

Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced Thursday the long-awaited Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act to allow states to set their own regulations on the pot industry.

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"It's no longer a question of 'if cannabis should be legal,'" said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore,. who co-sponsored the bill alongside Schumer and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.

"The states are moving ahead, and not only do the overwhelming majority of American people support legalization, they now live in a state where some form of cannabis is legal," Wyden added in a statement. "I'd ask my colleagues in the Senate to think long and hard about what keeping the federal government stuck in yesteryear means for public health and safety."

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The bill, which comes more than 50 years since Congress first classified the substance as an illegal drug, has floated around Capitol Hill in draft form for more than a year.

On Thursday, Schumer said America's War on Drugs "has been a war on people, and particularly people of color."

"The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act will be a catalyst for change by removing cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances, protecting public health and safety, and expunging the criminal records of those with low-level cannabis offenses, providing millions with a new lease on life," Schumer said in a statement. "A majority of Americans now support legalizing cannabis, and Congress must act by working to end decades of over-criminalization. It is time to end the federal prohibition on cannabis."

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Yet Schumer faces an uphill battle, with strong opposition even from lawmakers representing states that have pro-cannabis laws, such as South Dakota and Montana.

"I oppose it," Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., told Politico. "The people in Montana decided they want to have it legal in our state, and that's why I support the SAFE Banking Act as well -- it's the right thing to do -- but I don't support federal legalization."

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Nineteen states allow recreational sales and 37 have medical marijuana programs.

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On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on crime and terrorism, chaired by Booker, will hold a hearing to "examine decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level, focusing on necessary steps to address past harms."

Booker has long fought to decriminalize weed, proposing in 2017 legislation to end the federal ban on cannabis. He's vocally opposed such laws as having a disproportionate effect on minorities.

"They don't make our communities any safer -- instead they divert critical resources from fighting violent crimes, tear families apart, unfairly impact low-income communities and communities of color and waste billions in taxpayer dollars each year," Booker told NJ.com.

Booker has opposed leaner marijuana bills, such as the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act, which would allow banks to offer services to cannabis corporations without any provisions for social justice reform.

"De-scheduling marijuana and applying that change retroactively to people currently serving time for marijuana offenses is a necessary step in correcting this unjust system," he told NJ.com.

Keeping social justice reform in the legislation remains a priority for Schumer, too.

"We'd certainly listen to some suggestions if that'll bring more people on board," Schumer told Politico. "That is not to say we're going to throw overboard things like expungement of records -- very important to us -- and other things like that, just cause some people don't like it."

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Some in the cannabis industry are not as hopeful as Schumer.

"This comes after he promised and failed to release the bill in April, and after he put out a 'discussion draft' way back in July 2021," Todd Harrison, who heads the cannabis-focused investment firm CB1 Capital, said in a statement. "We see little chance that this bill moves forward as is."

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