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Draft bill to legalize pot at federal level in U.S. unveiled by Democratic senators

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Three top U.S. Democratic senators on Wednesday unveiled a discussion draft of a bill that aims to make cannabis federally legal, a move that would allow adult Americans to buy and possess up to 10 ounces of marijuana without facing criminal penalties.

The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act floated by Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, Finance Chairman Ron Wyden and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, would expunge federal non-violent marijuana crimes, further medical research and allow cannabis companies access to essential financial services such as bank accounts and loans.

While adult use of cannabis is legal in 18 states, and allowed medically in 37 states, it remains illegal under U.S. federal law, deterring banks and other businesses from dealing with companies that sell marijuana or related products.

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The draft also sets the minimum age required to buy cannabis at 21 and limits retail sales transactions at the state level to 10 ounces of cannabis at a time or the equivalent amount of any cannabis derivative.

If approved, the bill could also open the flood gates of revenue streams for state-compliant cannabis businesses. Many firms have been struggling to gain a foot in the door for legitimate means of banking.

In April, the U.S. House of Representatives had voted 321-101 to approve a legislation to allow banks to provide services to cannabis companies in states where it is legal.

The draft also states that a new definition of cannabis would be established within the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act and primary agency jurisdiction over cannabis would be transferred to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives within the Department of Justice.

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A cannabis reform act would recognize state law as controlling the possession, production, or distribution of cannabis, and that shipment of the substance into a state in violation of state law would be prohibited.

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However, the draft says that a state may not prohibit interstate commerce of cannabis transported through its borders for lawful delivery into another state.

A final legislative draft will be introduced later and feedback on the discussion draft can be provided until Sept. 1.

(Reporting by Arathy S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli and Bernard Orr)

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