Members of Congress have spent the past few years periodically throwing punches at federal cannabis policy. Senate Democrats are winding up to throw another, though this punch looks to be yet another body blow rather than a knockout.
An influential trio of Democratic senators consisting of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, former presidential candidate Cory Booker of New Jersey and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden of Oregon, filed the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) last week. The nearly 300-page bill is broad in scope, ranging from social equity and criminal justice reform to regulation and definition of terms like "hemp" and "cannabis," though the main takeaway is that it would legalize cannabis at the federal level.
"Cannabis legalization has proven immensely successful at the state level, so it is time that Congress catches up with the rest of the country," Schumer said on the Senate floor last week.
More specifically, it's the Senate that needs to catch up. The House has already passed legislation, known as the MORE Act, that would legalize cannabis. It's been passed twice, most recently in April. Both times, the MORE Act has died in committee upon reaching the Senate. The fact that the Senate is taking the lead with the CAOA is notable, but the process will be no different than in the past. After being introduced last week, the CAOA was referred to the finance committee. Even if it can escape death in committee unlike previous attempts, its prospects to pass the Senate aren't great.
"I want to stress that this is the beginning of the legislative process, not the end. We are going to work hard to create support for our bill, and I hope we can make more progress towards cannabis reform in the future," Schumer said.
Despite broad support for cannabis legalization among Americans of both parties, and growing bipartisan approval within Congress, it remains a polarizing issue on Capitol Hill. It's unclear if Schumer and company will be able to get all 50 Senate Democrats on board, and beyond that they'd need at least 10 Republicans to avoid a filibuster. Overwhelming public support for an issue means little in Washington, D.C., these days.
While unlikely to pass, the introduction of this legislation is at least another punch against the prohibition of cannabis in this country. And with each punch prohibition looks less steady on its feet. ♦