Sen. Chuck Schumer is taking a quick break from whipping up support along his moderate flank for the Dems' $3.5 trillion "human infrastructure" package to draft legislation on Wednesday to help decriminalize marijuana at the federal level in an attempt to raise more tax revenue to offset the trillions of dollars of additional spending the Democrats are planning over the next decade.
While the revenues raised from taxing marijuana likely would only amount to a drop in the bucket, Schumer, Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Ron Wyden have unveiled draft legislation calling for federal decriminalization.
Marijuana is already effectively legal now across much of the US after New Jersey, Connecticut, New York and a handful of other states recently embraced legalization.
The bill, called the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (where it remains a "Schedule 1" and impose a federal tax on marijuana products).
According to Axios, revenue from marijuana taxes would be used to fund "grant programs for communities most impacted by marijuana prosecutions". It would also transfer regulation of marijuana to the FDA from the DEA. The bill still faces "steep" odds in the Senate, where moderate Dems remain wary of ending federal prohibition.
States would mostly be allowed to set their own laws and taxes regarding cannabis sale and consumption. It would also require federal districts to expunge all nonviolent marijuana-related arrests and convictions within one year.
Speaking from the Senate Floor Wednesday, Schumer declared the legislation a major step forward.
"For decades, young men and women - disproportionately young Black and Hispanic men and women, have been arrested and jailed for even carrying a small amount of marijuana in their pocket."
"This is monumental," he added. "At long last, we are taking steps in the Senate to right the wrongs of the failed war on drugs."
At one point, the bill's backers said that the higher prices created by taxes would "disincentivize" young people from buying the increasingly potent marijuana available both at legal dispensaries and on the street. As for trying to construe legalizing (and price-inflating) marijuana as a kind of deterrent against abuse by teenagers, well...we imagine readers can reason through that on their own.
The timing of the announcement isn't much of a surprise. Earlier this week, the CEO and chairman of Tilray, a major publicly traded pot stock, said during an interview with CNBC that he expected Congress to move ahead with full legalization within the next two years. He pointed to surveys purporting to show more than 90%+ public support for marijuana.
And as the Democrats have demonstrated with their spending ambitions, they need to raise revenue from wherever they can get it.