A simplified look at what’s in the long-awaited bill…

By now you’ve certainly heard about exciting new legislation proposed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and associates. If/when passed, CAOA would remove cannabis from the Schedule I classification, put the FDA in charge of it on the federal level, and help free people who were and are still being punished on the “War on Drugs.” It’s pretty complex (what bill isn’t?) but here’s a brief look at the important stuff.


First, let’s look at the status quo and why this proposed change is so positive and necessary.

In 1970, Congress placed cannabis into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I is the most tightly restricted category reserved for drugs that have “no currently accepted medical use.” Cannabis is lumped in with other drugs, including heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote. It’s like going to a wild animal park and finding a Shih Tzu among the lions, tigers and bears.

What qualities do the authorities think all Schedule I drugs must share?

  1. The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
  2. The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
  3. There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

Cannabis supporters and saner heads have long challenged this qualification numerous times but it remains in place. Frosting on the inedible cake was added in 1992, when the DEA said that cannabis has no accepted medical use because it does not meet all these criteria:

  • The drug’s chemistry is known and reproducible
  • There are adequate safety studies
  • There are adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy
  • The drug is accepted by qualified experts
  • The scientific evidence is widely available

These criteria are not binding and may be altered at any time. However, courts have deferred to these criteria and so they’ve remained in effect, despite the difference between these and the statutory criteria.

Of course, the fact that cannabis is federally prohibited has made federal research into cannabis virtually impossible. Catch-22.

A Strong Ray of Hope

But recently Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Cory Booker and Senator Ron Wyden proposed the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (“CAOA”). The bill provides for reasonable and comprehensive changes to the current, anachronistic and punitive federal regulation of marijuana.

What would the bill do?

  • If it’s passed, the bill would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) and corresponding regulations within 60 days of being passed.
  • Cannabis would be to regulation under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act overseen by the FDA. The FDA and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) would be responsible for all aspects of federal cannabis oversight in the same way they are responsible for alcohol and tobacco.
  • The TTB, in connection with the Department of Treasury, would maintain authority over the taxation and trade practices of cannabis products. There would be a federal excise tax similar to the taxes on alcohol and tobacco.
  • Senator Schumer’s bill would defer to state law regarding the possession, production, and distribution of cannabis. Federal decriminalization under the proposed legislation does not allow for the use or distribution of cannabis in violation of state law.
  • There legislation would establish a Center for Cannabis Products under the FDA, which would regulate all products containing cannabis. The CCP would regulate registration, product listing, good manufacturing practices, product standards, product labeling, product distribution, and recalls.
  • Three grant programs would be established:
    1. The Community Reinvestment Grant Program, as administered by the Cannabis Justice Office, will fund nonprofit organizations that provide services such as job-training and legal aid to individuals impacted by the War on Drugs.
    2. The Cannabis Opportunity Program, as administered by the Small Business Administration (“SBA”), will provide funding to states and localities that offer loan assistance to small businesses in the cannabis industry operated by socially and economically disadvantaged parties.
    3. The Equitable Licensing Grant Program, as administered by the SBA, will provide funding to states and localities to implement cannabis licensing programs that minimize barriers of entry for individuals adversely effected by the War on Drugs. To be eligible for either SBA program, states and localities must work to create an automatic process to expunge criminal records for cannabis offenses and violations.

We at Senior-High are thrilled with the bold steps forward taken with Senators Schumer, Booker and Wyden’s bill. Removing cannabis from a law and classification in which is certainly does not apply or belong opens many doors, and incents states to expunge criminal records for individuals who should never have been convicted of a “crime” in the first place. This will also, at long last, enable cannabis companies to conduct traditional banking business with fiduciary institutions. We hope federal funds will now become more easily available to conduct research into the benefits of cannabis which may benefit us all.

Donnie R. Marshall (March 28, 2001). “Notice of Denial of Petition”. In: Office of the Federal Register (April 18, 2001). 66 F.R. 20037. Government Printing Office. Retrieved on 2007-04-28.

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