Marijuana Justice Coalition on First-Ever Comprehensive Marijuana Reform Bill in the Senate

Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act Builds Off House-passed MORE Act to Deschedule Marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and Begin Repairing Extensive Harms Caused by Prohibition

July 21, 2022

Washington, D.C.—In response to Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Sens. Booker and Wyden today introducing the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, members of the Marijuana Justice Coalition—a broad coalition of national advocacy organizations united in their advocacy for federal marijuana reform through a racial and economic justice lens—released the following coalitions statements: 

Joint Marijuana Justice Coalition Statement:
“We appreciate all of the hard work that Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Sens. Booker and Wyden put into reaching this milestone by developing the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA). As a diverse coalition of organizations, we have worked diligently to ensure that issues ranging from criminal justice to immigrant rights to workers’ rights and economic justice are included in the bill. We look forward to going through the proposal with a fine-tooth comb to ensure that the legislative text will best address the decades of harm prohibition has inflicted on people of color and marginalized communities. We will be releasing more information publicly regarding the strengths and potential improvements to the bill as it works through the committee process.”  

Maritza Perez, Director of the Office of Federal Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA):
“The significance of this bill finally being introduced in the Senate cannot be understated. For over 85 years, our communities have been locked up and locked out of opportunities as a result of punitive and racially-motivated marijuana enforcement. The leadership displayed today by Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Sens. Booker and Wyden, in introducing this bill, sends a clear message that those days are numbered. Building off the House-passed MORE Act, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act would not only deschedule marijuana at the federal level, but it also begins to repair the extensive economic and societal tolls that have been caused by prohibition. While the bill—in its current form has room for improvement—we are incredibly grateful to have reached this critical milestone and look forward to working with the Senate in the coming days and months to meticulously address those concerns and ensure the reforms this bill calls for authentically embody the kind of justice, opportunity and reinvestment our communities deserve.” 

Morgan Fox, Political Director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML):
“Official introduction of this far-reaching legislation will facilitate substantive and long overdue conversations in the Senate on cannabis policy reform. More Americans agree on the need to end prohibition than on almost anything else, and Majority Leader Schumer should be commended for his historic leadership on this issue. We look forward to working with the entire Senate in the coming months to sensibly regulate cannabis and start repairing the harms associated with failed and outdated federal policies.”

Sirine Shebaya, Executive Director of the National Immigration Project (NIPNLG):
“For decades, the failed War on Drugs has targeted Black and brown communities and has had devastating consequences for immigrant communities. Beyond the already harsh criminal consequences of marijuana convictions, immigrants are additionally punished through draconian penalties including detention, deportation, and family separation – even in states where marijuana use has been decriminalized. We applaud Senators Schumer, Booker, & Wyden for taking this significant and long overdue step to begin to repair the deep harms marijuana prohibition has caused our communities. As an organization composed of and representing immigrants all over the country, we commend this step and will work with our partners to ensure this bill becomes law.”

Justin Strekal, Founding Organizer of Better Organizing to Win Legalization (BOWL):
“We cannot overstate the significance of this first, the Senate Majority Leader introducing legislation to end the federal criminalization of marijuana. As the political winds demand reform, the legislative process must ensure that those who have been harmed be made whole and that small businesses are given preference in this emerging legal marketplace. As we collectively work towards legalization, decriminalization is a vital step— one that the Senate just took today.” 

Nithya Nathan-Pineau, Policy Attorney & Strategist at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC):
“The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) commends the important step the Senate has taken with the introduction of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA). The CAOA continues to build upon the Marijuana Justice Coalition’s approach to marijuana policy led by the principles of social equity and investment. We are glad to see that the CAOA addresses the collateral consequences faced by immigrants as a result of draconian marijuana policy and takes an important step towards repairing the harm caused to immigrant communities. We look forward to reviewing the language of the bill and continuing to advocate for all immigrants impacted by criminalization.”

Timothy McMahan King, Senior Fellow at the Clergy for a New Drug Policy:
“This legislation is another step toward the creation of a just and compassionate society. Cannabis never should have been criminalized and now we need to make right the harms prohibition has caused, especially among communities of color. We’ve worked with hundreds of religious leaders across the country who have been at the forefront of this movement for justice and by faith, we believe the time for this long overdue change has come.” 

Shaleen Title, Founder of the Parabola Center:
“Like Senate Majority Leader Schumer, we believe that federal marijuana legalization should provide opportunities for small and minority-owned businesses, not Big Tobacco and the other ‘big boys.’ We continue to applaud the Majority Leader and Senators Booker and Wyden for their sincere commitment to ensuring fair access and restorative measures for the communities that have historically been excluded and harmed. However, as state after state has demonstrated, it takes more than just a commitment to equitably implement a framework for legal cannabis. It takes attention to detail, evaluation of evidence, and a willingness to make course corrections. We are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with members of the Senate to work through those details and advance bold, evidence-based solutions to put us on track toward our common goals of fairness and justice. The introduction of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act is a significant step toward those goals.”

Ronald Simpson-Bey, Executive Vice President at JustLeadershipUSA:
“Building off the House-passed MORE Act, JustLeadershipUSA commends Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Senators Booker and Wyden for their vision and leadership in the development of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA). CAOA will help relieve some of the debilitating collateral consequences suffered by millions of Americans with drug convictions, and millions more of their family members. When you eliminate or restrict a person’s ability to find housing, ability to get food, ability to drive, ability to work, and ability to get higher education, you create roadblocks to people becoming successful and contributing members of society. CAOA is a clear step in the right direction, and we hope that it is but one step of many more to come.”

Bryon Adinoff, President of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DCFR):
“The U.S. Senate’s consideration of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), which follows passage of the MORE Act earlier this year, will be remembered as a bold action advancing public health in our country. Federal prohibition of cannabis began in 1937 with the Marijuana Tax Act and remains in place under the Controlled Substances Act. Passage of the Tax Act ignored the forceful opposition testimony of the AMA’s legal counsel, Dr. William C. Woodward. As president of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, an organization representing hundreds of physicians and other medical professionals, I believe the CAOA will empower our country to reverse the harms of prohibition by descheduling cannabis, easing scientists’ ability to conduct research on medical cannabis, allowing Veterans access to medical cannabis, expunging cannabis-related convictions, and ending prohibitions’ ongoing harm to public health. We look forward to working with the Senate to assure that this bill allows the U.S. to better promote public health in a just society.”

Benita Jain, Supervising Attorney at the Immigrant Defense Project (IDP):
“For decades, Black and Latinx communities have been targeted disproportionately for cannabis-related activity. Immigrants from these communities have been doubly targeted by ICE, leading to detention, deportation and separation from loved ones. Even in states that have decriminalized cannabis, immigrants remain at risk and shut out of the legal industry due to the harsh immigration consequences that remain at the federal level. Today’s introduction of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act is a milestone in the fight for immigrant justice, and descheduling marijuana will take an important step toward ending these harms. We look forward to reading the bill closely and working with the Senate to ensure that it fully meets the resounding call for justice, equity and opportunity for all people.”

Akua Amaning, Director of Criminal Justice Reform at the Center for American Progress (CAP):
“The Senate’s Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) is a critical step toward comprehensive reform and equitable marijuana laws rooted in social and racial justice. This measure would not only deschedule marijuana, but it would also correct decades of harms by facilitating the expungement and resentencing of nonviolent federal marijuana convictions. Black people are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than white people, despite using it at similar rates—these arrest records can be a lifetime barrier to economic security. By reinvesting tax revenue from marijuana businesses into the communities most affected by the war on drugs, the CAOA would help fuel job growth and increase opportunity for communities most harmed by our country’s criminalization of marijuana. In introducing this bill, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, along with Sens. Cory Booker and Ron Wyden, have demonstrated their commitment to centering equity and restorative justice through modernizing the country’s marijuana policies. While we applaud the Senate’s efforts, we recognize there is opportunity to enhance the measure. We look forward to continuing our work alongside the Marijuana Justice Coalition to ensure the CAOA truly functions as a measure of equitable and restorative justice.”

Roz McCarthy, Founder and CEO, and Eric Foster, National Policy Director for Cannabis & Hemp, at Minorities for Medical Marijuana (M4MM):
“We at Minorities for Medical Marijuana are excited to see Senator Majority Leader Charles Schumer, Senator Corey Booker and Senator Ron Wyden bring the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act to the United States Senate. This is a historic step in the work to bring cannabis from the shadows and to the light of legalization, descheduling and restorative economic and social justice. We are anticipating thoughtful debate and consideration for this legislation and taking part in that process. We look forward to reviewing the legislative text and providing our thoughts and recommendations for language modifications as warranted.”

Aamra Ahmad, Senior Policy Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU):
“The ACLU is pleased that Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Senators Booker and Wyden are introducing the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act. Americans overwhelmingly support marijuana legalization, yet there are more than 400,000 arrests a year for possession of marijuana, needlessly entangling people in the criminal legal system. If you want to know what systemic racism is, look no further than the war on drugs and marijuana enforcement—a Black person is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Black and white people use marijuana at similar rates. As a result, people of color are unevenly bearing the burdens of having a marijuana conviction, including difficulty securing housing, employment, education, and public benefits. We will continue to work with the Senate to ensure that this bill succeeds in lifting the burdens of criminalization by providing expungement and resentencing for all marijuana convictions.”

Marc H. Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League:
“For generations, cannabis prohibition and the War on Drugs has targeted people of color, exacerbating a legacy of mass prosecution and incarceration. Prohibition and Schedule 1 drug classification has also created barriers to education, housing, and more, extending wealth gaps along racial lines. The National Urban League applauds the efforts of Majority Leader Schumer and Senators Booker and Wyden for introducing the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act. We look forward to closely reviewing the bill and continuing to work with the Senators to ensure this bill will allow our communities to achieve the true equality, inclusion, and justice it deserves.”

Eric Goepel, Founder & CEO of the Veterans Cannabis Coalition:
The introduction of CAOA marks the next stage in our national progress towards ending federal cannabis prohibition and we thank Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Senators Booker and Wyden for their leadership. At its core, cannabis prohibition has harmed every person in the U.S. since at least 1937 by denying a basic truth: the plant has benefits. In the case of veterans, who have witnessed more than 120,000 suicides and an untold number of fatal overdoses and substance-related deaths in our community since 9/11, prohibition is killing us every day. Veterans have been the canary in the coalmine in public health crisis after crisis, from opioids to houselessness, yet our elected representatives largely feel comfortable ignoring both our lived experience and a growing body of supporting research. Believe veterans when we say that there is no silver bullet when tackling complex and severe trauma. But our nation only stands to gain in investigating, normalizing, and developing new treatments on the strength of what cannabis and its compounds offer.”

Kanya Bennett, Managing Director of Government Affairs at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:
“We applaud the introduction of this comprehensive reform bill. Addressing draconian federal marijuana laws through measures like this legislation is long overdue. Over the past five decades, U.S. drug policies have contributed to an increase in unprecedented incarceration rates. Over-criminalization and over-incarceration have devastating impacts on those ensnared in the criminal-legal system and their families, do not produce any proportional increase in public safety, and disproportionately harm Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income communities. We look forward to working with the Senate to ensure that this bill addresses these decades of harm and provides reparative opportunities to communities most affected by these failed policies.”

See the full press release here.