Yesterday, the first draft of the US marijuana reform bill, co-sponsored by US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden and Senator Cory Brooks, was finally released. The proposed legislation has been much anticipated for months, but until now there has still been no detailed information.

The proposal, named the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, has been released as a discussion draft with the aim of initiating a dialogue and debate with Congress, and the public, before the final legislative proposal is submitted later this year.

The 163-page Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act contains the following key elements.
1. Eliminating timelines for cannabis use
2. Removing marijuana-related criminal records and allowing incarcerated individuals to apply for resentencing
3. Establishes a federal marijuana tax to fund social justice marijuana grant programs
4. Allows states to maintain marijuana prohibition, but does not allow for the criminalization of marijuana transport across borders as long as the marijuana is transported between two legal markets.

According to the draft description, the legislation would transfer the regulation of cannabis from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The main responsibilities are for the regulation of the production and distribution aspects of cannabis products, such as production specifications, product standards, registration and listing, and labelling information requirements related to ingredients and instructions for use. At the same time, the ATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the TTB, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Trade and Taxation, will also regulate and control the development of the cannabis industry in terms of taxation and product tracking. In short, these agencies will have dual jurisdiction over certain aspects of cannabis product labeling and packaging, advertising and other consumer information.

Other proposals made in the draft Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act include the decriminalisation of cannabis at the federal level and the removal of regulations imposed on cannabis, and on communities most affected by drugs and war. In addition, the document proposes to regulate and tax cannabis similarly to alcohol and tobacco. According to the discussion draft, the bill would impose a 10 per cent tax on cannabis products and raise it to 25 per cent within five years of the bill becoming law.

Senator Cory Brooker (R-CA), a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a press statement, "For decades, our federal government has waged a war on drugs that has had a disproportionate and unfair impact on low-income communities and communities of colour.

While red and blue states across the country continue to legalize marijuana, the federal government continues to lag behind. It is time for Congress to end federal marijuana prohibition and for us to reinvest in the communities that have suffered the most from the failed war on drugs. I am proud to introduce Senator Wyden and Majority Leader Schumer to this landmark bill that will finally turn a dark page in American history and begin to right those wrongs."

Recent polls show that more than two-thirds of U.S. citizens now support the legalization of marijuana. In addition, approximately one third of Americans now live in states where recreational marijuana, and adult cannabis, is legal. This is despite the fact that the legalisation of marijuana is underway and the cannabis industry has had some success. However, there is evidence that communities that have been more affected by the war on drugs are currently benefiting the least from this new industry.

The senators also wrote in the draft legislation that it was "part of a legacy of racial discrimination and national injustice, a disproportionate consequence of 80 years of marijuana prohibition. The report also states:- "The continued enforcement of marijuana prohibition has resulted in more than 600,000 arrests each year, disproportionately affecting people of colour, who are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite equal rates of use across populations."
Evidence also shows that black people arrested for drug offences receive 13.1 per cent longer sentences compared to whites. In addition, the bill states that "Latinos are nearly 6.5 times more likely than non-Latino whites to be sentenced to prison for marijuana possession."

In addition to decriminalization at the federal level, the bill proposes to eliminate federal non-violent marijuana offenses such as possession and supply of marijuana. In addition, people who are serving prison sentences for these crimes could apply for resentencing.

Other social justice measures included in the bill include reinvesting a portion of the revenue received through marijuana taxes, primarily in communities most affected by the war on drugs, and supporting marijuana entrepreneurs from the industry, who are less financially able to do so.

It is unclear whether the proposal will garner enough support from MPs to become law, however, there is growing support for cannabis reform among both major political parties.

Currently, medical marijuana is allowed in 37 states in the United States, with the exception of Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In addition, recreational marijuana is legal in 18 states, not counting Washington DC, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The bill is currently undergoing a public comment period and will face a tough decision in the future with a congressional vote, with an estimated 60 votes needed for successful passage, which means at least 10 Republicans will have to support it. While President Joe Biden has expressed his support for the legalisation of cannabis, he has not yet expressed his support for full legalisation.