Although the official language of the U.S. Senate Cannabis Administrative and Opportunity Act (CAOA) have yet to be released as of May 2022, government and cannabis industry watchers continue to express optimism this legislation could approach the 60-vote minimum required to pass.
Written and sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and John Hickenlooper (D-CO), the proposal mirrors many of the aspects of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which passed in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year. Most notable is removing cannabis from the list of controlled substances, which is what currently designates it illegal at the federal level despite 18 states, the District of Columbia and Guam having legalized recreational use by adults. Plus, medical marijuana has been approved in 37 states as of spring 2022.
Another factor shared by the two bills is an expungement of federal non-violent marijuana crimes. The Senate version specifies that individuals currently in federal prison on non-violent marijuana convictions can petition for resentencing.
Of course, both bills tax cannabis sales, with funds deposited to an Opportunity Trust Fund. The Senate authors designate revenue to be reinvested into communities negatively impacted by previous drug enforcement policies and aiding entrepreneurs of color seeking to enter the industry. The Senate bill also requires a higher tax rate. Whereas the House calls for 5% sales tax to be raised to 8% within three years, CAOA lists a 10% rate, which would be raised 5% annually until it reaches 25%.
Also, CAOA would move enforcement powers out of the purview of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and into the shared authority of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, and the Food and Drug Administration.
Of course, details could change between now and when it’s formally introduced in committee or brought up for hearings and/or debate. So why does a Senate bill that hasn’t been entered into record yet have so many cannabis industry lobbyists and participants feeling optimistic? The answer probably lies more with the general public than lawmakers. In addition to voters endorsing state legalization of recreational cannabis use, poll after poll indicate overwhelming support for federal legalization across the political aisle. Still, that 60-vote threshold is a steep hill to climb, especially in an election year.