US Senate Democrats on Wednesday rolled out draft legislation that would federally decriminalize marijuana, with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer lending his weight to the latest legislative effort to curb America's war on drugs.
The bill would remove pot from the list of controlled substances and allow stronger regulation and taxation of a drug that has been legalized in several states, and the uncertain but multi-billion-dollar legal industry it has created.
"This is monumental, because at long last we are taking steps in the Senate to right the wrongs of the failed war on drugs," Schumer said at a press conference with the bill's other two sponsors, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Oregon's Senator Ron Wyden.
The three lawmakers framed anti-marijuana laws as predominantly impacting people of color.
According to the draft, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act "aims to end the decades of harm inflicted on communities of color by removing cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances and empowering states to implement their own cannabis laws."
The legislation would create a trust funded by marijuana tax revenue that would be reinvested in communities most impacted by the war on drugs, and help Black and other minority entrepreneurs overcome barriers of access to the cannabis industry.
Booker, who is Black, pointed to the "hypocrisy" of incarcerating thousands of young people of color arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana, leaving them with crippling criminal records, "for doing things that presidents and Congress people and senators have done."
"This is a grievous reality," Booker added. "Lives are being destroyed every single day."
Adult recreational use of marijuana has been legal in 18 of the 50 US states and the capital city Washington, while medical use is now legal in 37 states.
And fully 70 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization, Schumer said.
But he acknowledged the bill could go up in smoke, especially with Republicans likely to use the filibuster tactic to block the legislation unless it has support from 60 senators.
Democrats currently control the 50-50 Senate, and getting 10 Republicans on board would be a heavy lift.
"We don't have the votes necessary at this point," Schumer said.
"We're going to show it to the others... and we'll see if we can get the support."
The bill among other things seeks to help communities of color damaged by years of aggressive federal drug policy, and calls for expunging nonviolent cannabis-related convictions from federal records.
Steven Hawkins, executive director at the Marijuana Policy Project, called the draft a "promising first step" and said he was "hopeful that it will lead to negotiations and bipartisan support for an inclusive and equitable legal cannabis industry."