It took more than a year for Sen. Chuck Schumer and two of his Democratic colleagues to formally file a federal cannabis legalization bill, yet the majority leader indicated he still doesn’t have the support to pass it.
The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA)—which Schumer formally filed July 21, along with Sens. Ron Wyden, Ore., and Cory Booker, N.J.— is a 296-page bill that aims to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act; federally tax and regulate the plant; and empower states to create their own cannabis laws.
RELATED: Schumer and Company File Federal Cannabis Legalization Bill
The legislation is 133 pages longer than the discussion draft of the bill that Schumer and company first unveiled in July 2021. The current version of the bill—as filed this week—comes after the Senate trio considered more than 1,800 public comments and worked with the chairs of 10-plus Senate committees to put forth a proposal they hope gains traction.
Yet Schumer did not offer any assurances that the legislation is as popular among his Senate colleagues as cannabis legalization is among the American public when he addressed the upper chamber following the bill’s introduction on Thursday.
Although, he did say he’s aiming to “get something done this year.” That comment comes as 68% of Americans support full cannabis legalization, according to a recent Gallup Poll.
“I’ve had many productive conversations with my Republican and Democratic colleagues about cannabis reform. And I look forward to working with members from both sides of the aisle to secure support for this bill,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “I want to stress that this is the beginning of the legislative process, not the end. We’re 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 also stressed the importance of bill language that aims to expunge the federal criminal records of people with convictions for nonviolent cannabis offenses and allow those in federal prison for nonviolent cannabis offenses to appeal their sentences.
Underlying it all, he said, the CAOA is about individual freedom and basic fairness.
But the fact remains: Schumer, Wyden and Booker will likely need 60 votes to pass the CAOA out of the Senate—to avoid a possible filibuster—meaning they’ll need at least 10 Republicans to back their efforts.
Regardless, those efforts were applauded, criticized and appraised by many cannabis advocates, policy experts and stakeholders following the legislation’s formal filing on Thursday.
Below are initial reactions and comments from individuals and organizations from around the industry, as well as politicians in Washington, D.C.:
“Although we see the long-awaited introduction of CAOA as another positive sign for eventual federal cannabis reform, the Democrat-proposed bill will have a tough time passing the Senate. It is perhaps most important to take stock of its language, as we could see portions of CAOA added to future bills that have a better chance of passing. Democrats are likely to lose the House in November’s midterms, so we expect the party to fight extra hard to pass a cannabis bill before they lose the opportunity, especially given the current administration’s perceived shortcomings in progressing other federal priorities.”
–Matt Hawkins, founder/managing partner, Entourage Effect Capital
“We see the CAOA [as] a nonstarter. The cannabis industry could be thankful, excluding the harm caused by lack/adverse federal action, for the little to no work done on this bill as it helps demonstrate the validity of SAFE. We still see little to no probability of federal progress but the odds of SAFE happening in 2022 went up today post the release of CAOA.”
–Morgan Paxhia, co-founder/managing director, Poseidon Asset Management
“With $33 billion in retail sales and more than half a million jobs created, the cannabis industry is an important economic engine. Yet for too long, the absence of federal action has disadvantaged state-regulated cannabis companies and has led to a patchwork of state regulations to try to support these markets and achieve important goals around equity and entrepreneurship.
LeafLink is committed to fostering healthy and equitable cannabis markets, and we’re pleased to see the Senate take an important step toward aligning federal and state law. As a New York-based company, we applaud Majority Leader Schumer’s prioritization and championing of federal cannabis reform and encourage legislators to take thoughtful action to support the industry’s future.”
–Ryan G. Smith, co-founder/CEO, LeafLink
“For far too long, cannabis and CBD regulations across the United States have been a patchwork of rules with no true federal guidance, making it difficult to make approved claims on products and ensure standardized consumer safety protocols. I am thrilled to finally see a bill reach Congress that will affect cannabis on the national level, potentially paving the way for federal regulation of cannabis, CBD and hemp products and enhancing consumer safety.”
–Joseph Dowling, CEO, CV Sciences
“The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act will make our communities safer, our economy stronger, promote social equity and provide justice for the thousands of Americans with criminal records due to low-level cannabis offenses. We appreciate the positive changes made to the CAOA, and thank Sens. Schumer, Wyden and Booker for introducing this landmark legislation. The vast majority of Americans support common-sense cannabis reform, and now it’s time for Congress to deliver on this important legislation.”
–Saphira Galoob, executive director, National Cannabis Roundtable
“The CAOA is really encouraging in my initial review of the substance of the bill. We see incredible attention paid to solving some of the issues that we’re facing in cannabis, especially those issues that are impacting minority operators.
The equity provisions are so much more mature and really actionable than anything that we’ve seen in the past.
This is a major departure from a pure messaging bill that makes you feel good about equity but is implemented without results … this is the new bar.
I think something that needs to be in any cannabis bill is the impact that prohibition had on communities of color and attention paid to make sure that special funding and attention really does make it specifically into Black and Latino communities and address issues facing folks there. Anything that can be done to continue restoring and empowering those communities is fantastic.”
–Amber Littlejohn, executive director, Minority Cannabis Business Association
“The ‘war on drugs’—including the federal prohibition of medical and adult-use cannabis has been a catastrophic policy failure … unfair, uneven, unenlightened and unacceptable. Decades of just saying ‘no’ to progress has actually encouraged crime, decimated already fragile neighborhoods, and destroyed families.
The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, introduced in the U.S. Senate today, seeks to repair that damage by removing cannabis from the government’s list of controlled substances, establishing restorative justice provisions through grants and funding programs, and expunging criminal records of those convicted of low-level cannabis-related offenses. Although there are many challenges still to be addressed in this space, the CAOA is an excellent and important step. Making it the law of the land must be a priority for elected officials and policymakers, the legal cannabis industry and voters of all stripes across the country.
We look forward to engaging with legislators and stakeholders to improve this measure and pass it into law.”
–Cedric Haynes, associate vice president of public affairs, Weedmaps Policy
“As part of a workgroup focused on federal legalization that has worked with these senators over the last year, CRCC commends them for this historic step as the first comprehensive cannabis reform bill introduced in the U.S. Senate.
Sens. Schumer, Booker, and Wyden listened to our concerns as regulators and incorporated much-needed revisions to the draft such as prioritizing Minority Serving Institutions (MSI), including HBCUs, in the bill’s education infrastructure and adding several of CRCC’s proposed banking amendments, which will help close the gap on inequitable access to capital and other critical resources within the cannabis industry, particularly for historically excluded and minority entrepreneurs. We look forward to working with them to bolster this draft and make additional improvements as committee discussions commence.”
“We are pleased to see that the legislation appears to redefine hemp based on a total concentration of all tetrahydrocannabinols and, at least for plant material, at a higher level. NIHC has long advocated for such changes, and we are encouraged that the sponsoring offices listened to our feedback during their public comment period last summer.
However, NIHC remains broadly concerned about how this bill handles many other important details, such as the threshold it sets for hemp extract products, how it regulates CBD in general, and the lack of DEA-certified labs to test hemp, as the USDA final rule requires. We heard these concerns last fall when we met with over 20 states at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture annual meeting. We continue to hear from state regulators that access to DEA-certified labs is a barrier to the broader growth of the U.S. hemp industry. These and many other details require careful consideration and stakeholder outreach.”
–Patrick Atagi, president/CEO, National Industrial Hemp Council of America
“The legalization of cannabis is one of the rare areas of bipartisan consensus in America and lawmakers simply need to listen to their voters and find the formula to realize it.”
–David Klein, CEO, Canopy Growth
“National Medicinal Cannabis Coalition (NMCC) has long advocated for advancing thoughtful policy changes to address the current challenges and injustices of cannabis prohibition. We appreciate the efforts of Majority Leader Schumer, Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Ron Wyden for ensuring the cannabis industry has equal treatment to financial services and no longer suffers imbalanced tax treatment under Section 280E of the federal tax code.
While removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act is long overdue, we recognize the current challenges of passing comprehensive cannabis reform. NMCC will continue advocating for incremental policy changes, including the SAFE Banking Act, tax fairness, expanded research opportunities, veterans’ access, and incentives to create expungement programs.”
“We applaud the authors of the CAO Act for their leadership and vision. We are reviewing the updated legislative text and look forward to having substantive discussions on how to best transition away from the illicit market to a fully regulated, national market with opportunities for all.
Last September, we shared detailed comments on the public draft of the CAO Act, including our specific concerns about key aspects of the legislation. The US Cannabis Council still shares those concerns and believes it is critical to get the details right on America’s transition to legal, fully regulated cannabis. We welcome robust hearings in the coming days that fully consider key concerns around regulation, taxation, equity and responsible use.
The detailed policy conversations happening around the CAO Act should not distract us from its historic nature. At the same time, the ambitious and sweeping nature of the bill should not distract Congress from advancing limited yet critical reforms, such as expungement and the SAFE Banking Act, that are immediately within reach.”
–Steven Hawkins, CEO, US Cannabis Council
“The official introduction of this bill to finally end the policy nightmare of federal marijuana prohibition is the culmination of unprecedented leadership in the Senate and engagement with stakeholders across the political spectrum. We look forward to working with lawmakers to move this legislation toward passage and eagerly anticipate engaging in substantive conversations on all aspects of federal marijuana law with Senate members. These conversations and hearings are long overdue. The vast majority of Americans support comprehensive cannabis policy reform, and now is the time to figure out how to do that in a way that effectively addresses the damage done to marginalized communities and creates equitable opportunities in the burgeoning cannabis industry.”
–Morgan Fox, political director, NORML
“I think the acts that are the most simple, straightforward, and can get bipartisan support are the ones that are most likely to pass, such as something like some form of the SAFE Banking Act. I think there’s a lot more in [the CAOA], and my concern is whenever there’s more, there’s always opportunity for someone to have an issue with certain aspects of it. … I think that could negatively affect the ability for this to actually get passed. At this point, the best likelihood of something to pass is something that’s very simple, very straightforward, and something that both parties can agree to.”
–Robert DiPisa, co-chair, Cole Schotz’s Cannabis Law Group
“It will help with consistency, it will make things cheaper, it will make things better [and] it will make the market much more efficient. I think the real positive impact will be for the start-ups, the entrepreneurs, the people who otherwise couldn’t get into business because the price is so high, and they don’t have access to traditional financing.”
–Jonathan Robbins, chair, Akerman LLP’s Cannabis Practice
“The introduction of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) in the Senate is a historic breakthrough in our bicameral efforts to end the failed federal prohibition of cannabis.
I have worked for decades on this issue and finally the dam is starting to break. For far too long, the federal government has stood in the way of science and progress—failing our communities who have been most impacted by the disastrous war on drugs and prohibiting individuals from utilizing the health benefits of cannabis. The momentum surrounding cannabis reform in Congress and nationally has reached a fever pitch.
In addition to de-scheduling marijuana in places with state-legal programs, the bill has exciting elements including restorative justice and research. I look forward to working with my friends in the Senate to reconcile the differences between the CAOA and House-passed bills like the MORE Act and SAFE Banking. It is critical we resolve minor differences in the pursuit of larger objectives. We have never had stronger leadership in Congress for cannabis reform, and I’m optimistic that now is the time to make significant progress.”
–Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., founder/co-chair, Congressional Cannabis Caucus
“As more states legalize cannabis and work towards reversing the many injustices the failed war on drugs levied against Black, Brown, and low-income people, the federal government continues to lag woefully behind. With strong restorative justice provisions for communities impacted by the drug war, support for small cannabis businesses, and expungement of federal cannabis offenses, this bill reflects long overdue, common sense drug policy. I am proud to have partnered with Sens. Schumer and Wyden to introduce this critical legislation. The support that we have received from committee chairs and outside groups underscores the historic nature of this bill and the urgent need for Congress to pass it.”
–Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.
“For far too long, the federal prohibition on cannabis and the 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. 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.”
–Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Majority Leader
“It’s no longer a question of ‘if cannabis should be legal.’ 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. 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. By failing to act, the federal government is empowering the illicit cannabis market, it’s ruining lives and propping up deeply rooted racism in our criminal justice system, it’s holding back small cannabis businesses from growing and creating jobs in their communities. Cannabis legalization is here, and Congress needs to get with the program.”
–Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Senate Finance Committee Chairman
“It is long past time the federal government catches up to Washington state when it comes to cannabis laws. This legislation is about justice, strengthening our economy, and bringing the federal government into the 21st century. This legislation will undo deeply unfair and racially unjust laws that have disproportionately harmed mostly people of color—that’s hugely important. This bill will also strengthen our economy by finally recognizing the cannabis industry and modernizing federal regulations. I’m committed to making sure this legislation works for Washington state—where we have led the nation on common sense cannabis laws.”
–Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee Chairwoman
“This legislation makes important changes to bring federal cannabis policy in line with where the majority of the country already is—and in line with what Michiganders have already voted for. By legalizing cannabis at the federal level, we can protect public health and safety, support cannabis businesses as they continue to grow, create jobs, and seek safe, reliable access to banking services, and right past wrongs for many Americans—particularly people of color—who have been unduly punished for minor, nonviolent cannabis offenses.”
–Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman
Editor’s note: Editor Michelle Simakis and Senior Digital Editor Melissa Schiller contributed to this report.