Skip to content

Majority Leader Schumer Floor Remarks On The Introduction Of The Cannabis Administration And Opportunity Act

Washington, D.C.   Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor on the introduction of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Over the last few decades, Americans’ views on cannabis legalization have dramatically changed. Twenty years ago, less than a third of Americans believed that cannabis should be made legal. Today, that share is nearly 70% of the population, the highest level of support ever.

We can see this shift playing out in the states: nearly 90% of Americans live in a state that has legalized cannabis for either medical or adult recreational use. New York legalized cannabis in 2021, and even voters in deep-red South Dakota voted to legalize it for adult recreational use.

Cannabis legalization has proven immensely successful at the state level, so it is time that Congress catches up with the rest of the country. Last year, Senators Wyden, Booker, and I released a discussion draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act. After receiving more than 1,800 public comments and working with numerous Senate committees to improve the bill, today we are introducing this historic legislation.

I am proud to be the first Majority Leader ever to say that it is time to end the federal prohibition on cannabis, and this bill provides the best framework for updating our cannabis laws and reversing decades of harm inflicted by the war on drugs.

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.

Our bill will legalize cannabis by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act, empowering states to create their own cannabis laws instead. It will establish a robust regulatory system to protect public health and ensure that cannabis is as safe as possible. It includes rules to prevent impaired driving, prevent youth access, and prevent illegal diversion. We also robustly fund a variety of research programs to make up for lost time when it comes to cannabis research.

Crucially, our bill will also expunge the federal criminal records of people with convictions for non-violent cannabis offenses, and allow those in federal prison for nonviolent cannabis offenses to appeal their sentences.

It is a tragedy that far too many Americans—particularly Black and Hispanic Americans—have permanent blots on their records making it nearly impossible to move forward with their lives, just because they were arrested with a little marijuana in their pocket. How unfair and what a waste of human resources.

Our bill will also establish an Opportunity Trust Fund to reinvest in communities that have been devastated by the war on drugs.

And it will create opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses to legitimately pursue new opportunities in the growing cannabis industry.

And of course, underlying it all, this bill is about individual freedom and basic fairness. The fact that cannabis remains a schedule 1 controlled substance—in the same bad company of other drugs like heroin—is not just senseless, it’s deeply harmful for countless Americans—again, almost always people of color. And it impinges on the freedom of all of us. If [cannabis decriminalization] is working in all the states, why not let people use it?

We need to change that. We need to change the lack of freedom and fairness. We need to create opportunities for entrepreneurs to legitimately pursue new businesses, and comprehensive federal cannabis legislation is critical to reaching that goal.

I want to extend my deep appreciation to Senators Booker and Wyden, as well as all my colleagues who have worked with us on this important and long-overdue change. I want to thank Senator Murray and Senator Peters, and all of the chairs of the more than 10 Senate committees who worked with us over the past several years to significantly improve the bill from the discussion draft we released last year.

This bill would not be possible without the hard work of them and their staffs.

I want to stress that this is the beginning of the legislative process, not the end. We are going to work hard to create support for our bill, and I hope we can make more progress towards cannabis reform in the future.

I look forward to working with Democrats and Republicans to get something done this year.