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Federal Marijuana Decriminalization on the Horizon

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York is proposing legislation that will decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. Here’s what you should know.

The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act

Essentially, Sen. Schumer’s draft proposes removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and institute regulations and taxes similar to other products. Schumer also proposes to give compensation to the communities most affected by marijuana-related arrests – people of color and the poor.

In addition to legalization, the bill would expunge all nonviolent marijuana-related arrests and convictions. The government would erase drug convictions from federal records and allocate tax revenue from cannabis sales to restorative justice programs that would supplement efforts to rebuild communities decimated by the war on drugs and the prohibition of marijuana products.

The hope for the bill is that it will allow regulators to provide safer products to consumers and generate tax revenue that can go right back into communities across the United States. Schumer’s bill proposal faces a steep uphill battle as many Republicans continue to balk at the idea of legalization.

Why Is Legalization Important?

Since the war on drugs began, people of color, especially people in lower-income communities, have suffered the brunt of prejudice and extreme retribution from police. Marijuana-related arrests accounted for over half of all drug arrests in 2010. Additionally, people of color are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for drugs.

This long history of disparity and prejudice understandably leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of those victimized by extreme policing. The statistics show a definite increase in arrests within black and African American communities over white neighborhoods, and Sen. Schumer hopes to begin the healing process for these generational scars.

Senator Cory Booker says, “The hypocrisy of this is that […] people running for Congress, people running for Senate, people running for president of the United States readily admit that they’ve used marijuana.” He points out that while politicians are upfront about their experiences with marijuana, many people can never run for public office or obtain jobs due to their criminal record.

Drug crimes have consistently been a divisive issue among political groups, and advocates are justifiably frustrated at the lack of movement on these issues after decades of fighting for change. Schumer’s proposition certainly encourages the boots on the ground activists, but there’s still a long road ahead for federal legalization.

What About Arizona?

Like most states with legalized marijuana, a new industry has pros and cons. On the one hand, there’s potential for job creation, local revenue, and social change. Cannabis businesses typically experience a boom after legalization as more people try what was once “forbidden fruit” for themselves. These economic bursts can help local economies stay afloat during difficult times and create jobs related to cultivation and distribution.

On the other hand, new industries are just that – new. There’s often a period of uncertainty as people try to navigate constantly evolving laws and regulations as lawmakers seek what works and what doesn’t. This can sometimes leave business owners in a tough spot if they’re caught with outdated permits or missing essential documents.

Arizonans are still in the trial-and-error phase, but federal legalization could help standardize regulations and open up interstate cannabis commerce. There will still be a period of adjustment, but states who already have local legalization under their belt may have an easier time navigating the crazy times ahead.

Territorial Law will continue to follow the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act as it makes its way through the Senate.