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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday unveiled a bill that would decriminalize marijuana federally, a step on the road to full legalization. The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, co-sponsored by fellow Democratic senators Cory Booker and Ron Wyden, is an effort not only to transform weed’s federal status, but help redress harm done by the war on drugs. The bill would also expunge nonviolent cannabis offenses from federal criminal records and direct tax revenue generated by marijuana sales to communities most affected by previous drug enforcement. It would guarantee that businesses engaging in the marijuana trade — which did an estimated $17.5 billion in business last year — would be free from federal threat.
The bill would leave it up to the states whether and how to regulate and tax marijuana, a sop to Republicans who are less than eager to have the federal government dictate such matters. And, as Politico notes, Republican senators such as North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski are possibly receptive to such an idea.
The problem is that Democrats would need ten Republicans to overcome a GOP filibuster, as well as everyone in their own caucus to get onboard. And even accomplishing the latter goal is unlikely, with some moderates unlikely to support full legalization. And President Biden has never budged from his anti-legalization stance on the issue, despite the clear political advantages of doing so. (A Gallup poll in November showed more than two-thirds of Americans in favor.)
Weed is legal in 18 states, including in conservative bastions like Alaska and South Dakota, and about 43 percent of Americans can smoke a joint without fear of legal penalty. But until the Senate gets rid of the filibuster — or perhaps gets less geriatric, or both — comprehensive legalization is a pipe dream.