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A Brief Introduction: The Cannabis Administration And Opportunity Act

*The views expressed in this article do not represent the views of Santa Clara University.

"Cannabis Falling Out of a Glass" by Terrance Barksdale

“To decriminalize and deschedule cannabis, to provide for reinvestment in certain persons adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, to provide for expungement of certain cannabis offenses, and for other purposes.”*1

These are the first words of S.4591, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), which embody the sentiments of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR). According to the senators’ press release, the CAOA aims to “work towards reversing the many injustices the failed War on Drugs levied against Black, Brown, and low-income people,” promote the safe use of cannabis products, and facilitate potentially $45 billion or more in annual sales in the cannabis industry by 2025.

So far, CAOA has only been introduced in the Senate on July 21, 2022. Still, the fact that a bill like this has been presented to our legislators highlights the shift in embracing a new wave of progressive, comprehensive legislation. A wave that would end the harmful and out-of-touch federal prohibition on cannabis by removing cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances and empowering states to implement their own cannabis laws.

America and its citizens’ views on cannabis are at a peculiar crossroads in our political landscape. In a sense, our views on cannabis embody where we stand on specific issues in our country (ex., criminal justice, religious ideologies, rights of the states and federal government, etc.). Cannabis touches on various facets of our life in America and will continue to have discourse in our political spheres.

The CAOA is in its infancy, but it should be closely monitored due to the reach and impact that cannabis regulation will have politically, economically, and socially throughout the United States. Along with setting the legal age for cannabis use at 21, the bill includes multiple significant provisions related to highway safety; justice, immigration, and enforcement; small business administration; public health; education infrastructure; labor; veterans; tax and operations; and banking, housing, and community development.

The efforts to legalize cannabis have gained traction in some states and have run into severe roadblocks in others. Nineteen states allow adults to possess and use cannabis for non-medical, recreational adult use. Thirty-eight states have decriminalized cannabis or enacted laws authorizing it for medical or recreational adult use.*2 The most recent state to pass legislation is Rhode Island, which allowed an adult-use program. Six other states will introduce legislation to create an adult use program this fall.*3

“Green Cannabis Plant” by Harrison Haines

The bill and cannabis hold great promise in expanding and progressing not only public health in America but also sectors in business that need great rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic. The CAOA will introduce American citizens and workers to the taxing of cannabis federally, the encouragement of cannabis research, the strengthening of workers’ rights within the industry, and the security of a new avenue of business that is supported and adequately regulated by the federal government. Below are summaries of specific areas within American daily life and society that the CAOA aims to address, target, and change with proper cannabis regulation.*4

Protects Public Health

Establishing robust cannabis health and safety standards under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, mandating that states keep cannabis out of the hands of those under 21, ensuring cannabis producers are licensed and that their products are consistently labeled, and requiring the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Indian Health Service (IHS) to provide recommendations and opinions regarding the medical use of cannabis by VA and IHS patients.

Protects Public Safety

Implementing robust anti-diversion rules, including a track-and-trace system, adopting quantitative limitations on retail purchases to combat illicit market cannabis production and distribution, establishing grants to aid small law enforcement agencies in hiring and training officers, and instituting a new effort at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to fight against drugged driving and multi-substance impairment.

Prioritizes Restorative And Economic Justice

Automatically expunging federal cannabis convictions and motivating states to do the same, breaking down barriers to the cannabis industry, expanding access to capital, loans, and monetary funds to entrepreneurs harmed by the failed War on Drugs, and ending discrimination in the provision of federal benefits based on cannabis use.

Regulates and Taxes Cannabis

Transferring federal jurisdiction over cannabis from the Drug Enforcement Agency to the FDA and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) within the Treasury Department, and implementing a regulatory agenda and system akin to alcohol and tobacco, while recognizing the unique nature of cannabis products. Additionally, tax code restrictions will be eliminated for cannabis businesses claiming deductions for business expenses and implementing an excise tax on cannabis products.

Encourages Cannabis Research

Requiring and establishing more federal research into the impacts of cannabis on health and public safety. The CAOA hopes to establish clinical trials through the VA to study the effects of medical cannabis on the health outcomes of veterans, compiling industry-related trends and data, and instituting grants to progress cannabis research capacity at institutions of higher education, with particular focus on Historically Black Colleges and Universities and minority-serving institutions.

Strengthens Workers' Rights

Eliminate unnecessary federal employee pre-employment and random drug testing for cannabis while ensuring proper drug testing protocols for unique sensitive categories of employees where continued testing is essential, including commercial transportation, law enforcement, and national security, and ensuring worker protections for those employed in the cannabis industry.

A bill such as the CAOA making it this far is a momentous achievement, but the uphill battle cannabis still faces in our American lives is far from over. Even if the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act rallies enough support within the Senate, it is uncertain whether President Joe Biden will ultimately sign it. President Biden has gone on record in the past, stating that he does not support the legalization of cannabis at the federal level. The future of the CAOA is a curious one that will be swayed and molded by the ebbs and flows of our current American socio-political climate.

Footnote Citations:

  1. See Text - S.4591 - 117th Congress (2021-2022): Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, S.4591, 117th Cong. (2022),

  2. Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.

  3. Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Ohio.

  4. See Text - S.4591 - 117th Congress (2021-2022): Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, S.4591, 117th Cong. (2022),


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