The top Democrat in the Senate has introduced a bill to decriminalise marijuana across the US.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced on 20 April – a day known for its celebrations of the psychoactive drug – that he would sponsor legislation to remove marijuana from the country’s list of scheduled substances, effectively decriminalising it at the federal level.
“The time has come to decriminalise marijuana,” Mr Schumer said in a statement. “My thinking – as well as the general population’s views – on the issue has evolved, and so I believe there’s no better time than the present to get this done.”
Mr Schumer’s legislation would remove marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the US Controlled Substances Act of 1970, effectively reducing criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of weed.
The bill would also also establish funding streams for women and minority-owned marijuana businesses, and provide money for research into the public health effects of THC. The federal government’s ability to regulate intrastate drug trafficking and marijuana advertising would remain unchanged.
“This legislation would let the states be the laboratories that they should be, ensure that woman and minority owned business have a fair shot in the marijuana industry, invests in critical research on THC, and ensures that advertisers can’t target children,” Mr Schumer said. “it’s a balanced approach.”
Don Murphy, the director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policies Project, said he welcomed the legislation, but admitted it had a low chance of passing Congress.
"The good news here is [this legislation] elevates the debate to a new level,” he told The Independent. “That’s what's so great about it: Not that it’s going to be passed and signed by the president, but the fact that we’re having this conversation.”
President Donald Trump indicated earlier this month that he may be open to letting states decide how to regulate marijuana for themselves. But his Justice Department has been inflexible on the issue, to the point of rescinding Obama-era guidelines that made it easier for states to legalise the drug.
Nine US states have already legalised recreational marijuana, and 29 have legalised it for medical purposes. Sales of legal marijuana reached $9.7bn in North America in 2017, according to a report from Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics, far surpassing estimates of how fast the industry would grow.
According to the latest survey from Pew Research Centre, more than 60 per cent of Americans favour legalising marijuana – an historically high level of support.