A progressive wish-list

New Democrat-backed legislation is everything cannabis proponents want — but analysts claim it’s political theater


The cannabis world was abuzz last week after Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Corey Booker (D-N.J.) proposed a new cannabis reform bill called the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA). Though, to many, it seems unlikely the draft legislation will be passed any time soon — if it ever actually makes it to the floor of Congress at all. 

“We are all joining together to release draft legislation to end the federal prohibition on cannabis,” Sen. Schumer said during a news conference about the CAOA. “This is monumental, because at long last we are taking steps in the Senate to right the wrongs of the failed ‘war on drugs.’”

At 163 pages in length, it’s a robust proposal, addressing everything from de-scheduling cannabis, to expunging people’s prior convictions, allowing petitions for resentencing, establishing cannabis tax rules, allowing states the authority to establish their own individual cannabis laws, removing collateral consequences for non-violent cannabis crimes, funding equity programs, and transferring regulatory authority from the Drug Enforcement Agency to the Federal Drug Administration.

“While red and blue states across the country continue to legalize marijuana, the federal government continues to lag woefully behind,” Sen. Booker said during the news conference. “It is time for Congress to end the federal marijuana prohibition and reinvest in communities most impacted by the failed war on drugs.”

The bill proposal is so robust, in fact, that some political experts and market analysts are skeptical of its political practicality. As they point out, it’s essentially a liberal wish-list for federal cannabis legislative offerings — a list with little practical bargaining value with Democrats from more conservative states, as well as many Republicans, which indicates to some that the CAOA is little more than political theater. 

“We believe this legislation is designed to fail,” Jaret Seiberg, a Cowen Washington Research Group policy analyst wrote in a research note.“It is close to everything that progressives want while providing little reason for Republican senators to back the measure.” 

Sieberg argues that this bill is merely designed to politically uplift these three Democratic senators ahead of their 2022 re-election cycle. And he isn’t alone in that suspicion. 

Edwin Groshans, an analyst at Height Capital Markets, echoed Sieberg’s impressions, saying he sees the legislation’s introduction as a “discussion draft” instead of an actual bill, which speaks volumes about its prospects for success (at least in its current form). 

“Publicly releasing a discussion draft after months of writing the bill indicates that the behind-the-scenes negotiations have failed to generate the needed support to formally introduce a bill and begin the committee hearings and mark-up sessions required before the bill is voted on by the full Senate,” Groshans told MarketWatch

In other words, the proposed bill wouldn’t have had the required 60 votes to break a filibuster, so unless the content is changed materially, “then the bill’s demise is preordained,” Groshans said.

Whether it’s political theater or a genuine proposal for legislation, the CAOA is yet another step in the right direction for cannabis in the U.S. Currently, there are more cannabis bills working their way through Capitol Hill than ever before: there’s the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, that would decriminalize cannabis federally, and eliminate criminal records for those with non-violent cannabis crime records. Then there’s the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, protecting banks from federal retribution if they chose to work with cannabis businesses. And most recently, the Republican-sponsored VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act, which directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to conduct a formal study on the effects of cannabis on PTSD, chronic pain and other health issues vets often suffer from.

All of these bills take drastically different approaches to de-scheduling cannabis and are being reviewed by various congressional committees currently. And Sens. Schumer, Wyden and Booker’s new discussion draft has certainly served the purpose of fueling the discussion around cannabis legalization and pushing it further into the limelight of Congress. 

Even Surgeon General Vivek Murthy chimed in on cannabis’ draconian status as a Schedule I substance, in the wake of the CAOA proposal’s release. 

“When it comes to decriminalization, I don’t think that there is value to individuals or to society to lock people up for marijuana use,” Murthy said in a CNN appearance, discussing the CAOA. “I don’t think that serves anybody well.”