District of Columbia- Senate Minority Leader, Charles Schumer (D-NY) has introduced a bill that would decriminalize cannabis on the federal level.
If passed, the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act would remove cannabis from the Drug Enforcement Agency’s list of banned substances. Currently, cannabis is a Schedule I narcotic, which characterizes it as having the same level of danger as heroin and LSD.
“The time to decriminalize marijuana is now,” Schumer said in a statement.
The legislation would not prevent federal authorities from targeting illegal cannabis operators and drug traffickers that are acting out of compliance with state and local law. The bill would also allocate $500 million over the span of five years for the Department of Health and Human Services to research medicinal cannabis.
“This legislation is simply the right thing to do,” Schumer said.
Schumer indicated that his focus was on ensuring the bill would be able to empower more Americans to have a real opportunity to join and thrive within the cannabis industry.
“The new Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act is about giving states the freedom to be the laboratories that they should be and giving Americans-especially women and minority business owners as well as those convicted of simple possession of marijuana intended for personal use-the opportunity to succeed in today’s economy,” Schumer said.
Schumer’s bill would allow states to expunge or seal the criminal records of individuals convicted of simple possession. For many with a minor possession charge on their criminal record, finding a quality employment is a struggle.
The criminal record issue is seen as creating a problem of inclusion for the cannabis industry. Legal cannabis is relatively new. Many currently licensed growers acquired their skills and knowledge before legalization. However, cannabis arrests skew heavily toward black and Hispanic Americans. This can prevent many non-whites with a cannabis charge on their record from entering the industry.
The Trump administration has sent mixed signals on legalization. However, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been very direct with his views on cannabis. Earlier this year, he rescinded the Cole Memo, a directive seen as offering key protection for cannabis businesses and consumers. Many cannabis advocates and patients have been lobbying Congress to introduce new protective measures.
Schumer’s legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). Schumer is hoping to get support from across the aisle.
“I am hopeful that the balanced approach it takes can earn bipartisan support in Congress and across the country,” Schumer said of the bill.