Senate Likely Doesn’t Have the Votes to Pass Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act

Washington DC

More than 50 years ago now the U.S. Congress made cannabis an illegal substance. Many states have already passed laws legalizing marijuana. Senate leaders have now unveiled legislation that would make cannabis federally legal. The problem is it doesn’t appear to have enough support to pass, at least for now.

The bill is known as the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, or CAOA. In a nutshell, it aims to decriminalize cannabis on the federal level. This would then allow states to come up with their own laws and standards when it comes to cannabis use.

Sens. Schumer (NY), Wyden (Oregon), and Booker (N.J.) have been working on the legislation for some time. A draft was actually introduced early in 2021 but just this week the full legislation was proposed to the Senate. 

Even though it does not seem likely that the bill will have the support it needs to be made law it is entirely possible that we would see parts of it implemented as add-ons to other bills. If nothing else it will now shape conversations and framework for future talks about cannabis legalization from the federal government.

What’s In the Bill

The bill contains a lot of new proposals. Probably not surprising since it has been years in the making. They also tried to appease both sides of the aisle to garner as much support as possible.

The bill does allow for funding that would go to law enforcement agencies to fight against illegal cannabis cultivation. But as it is written it would expunge federal cannabis records.

There is also money allocated for grants for small business owners who are from communities that were disproportionately impacted by past cannabis laws.

An important part of the cannabis legislation conversation is based around safety. Not only individual safety but public safety. For instance, cannabis can and does impair one’s ability to drive. The new legislation would require that the Department of Transportation research and develop a nationwide standard for impaired driving related to marijuana.

What Is the Outlook for Cannabis 

It seems highly unlikely that Senator Schumer will be able to get this piece of legislation through the Senate as a standalone bill. Yes, it would take some Republicans hopping on board but it doesn’t appear that all Democrats are even on board. 

Democratic Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) all appear to be very much on the fence when it comes to legalizing marijuana at the federal level. Some other Democratic Senators from states that have already legalized marijuana seem to be hesitant to legalize it nationwide.

To get the bill to pass it would take all Democratic Senators and another 10 Republicans to support it. Even if that were to somehow all come together it may not even make it past President Biden. He has said more than once that he does not support the federal legalization of marijuana. However, it seems that if it made it that far that he may be able to be persuaded.

All in all this bill from Senator Schumer and company has some good talking points but it’s not likely to get very far on its own. However, we may very well start to see certain aspects of the bill being added on to other pieces of legislation. So it may not end up being sweeping federal legalization of marijuana but the groundwork may be set for incremental progress towards that goal.

The other issue is it would have to go through the House of Representatives. The Democrats currently hold the House but midterm elections could change that as well.



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