Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer has introduced legislation to decriminalise marijuana at the federal level.
The Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act removes marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, which classifies marijuana as equally dangerous as heroin and more dangerous than cocaine. The act will continue to allow states to decide how to handle marijuana possession.
"The time to decriminalize marijuana is now," Mr Schumer said in a press statement. "This legislation is simply the right thing to do."
The legislation also makes an effort to "level the economic playing field," by establishing funding for "women and minority-owned marijuana businesses."
Advocates have long-argued that current marijuana legislation unfairly penalises people of colour and minority groups. Black people were arrested for marijuana use at a rate of 17.7 per 100,000 in 2016, while white people were arrested at a rate of 1.8 per 100,000, according to a report by the Drug Policy Alliance, a pro-legalisation group.
The bill would also invest $500m over five years to work with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Commissioner of Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The money would be used for medical marijuana research and understanding the effects of THC, the active chemical in cannabis.
The legislation comes after Mr Schumer promised its introduction earlier this year, announcing the news on April 20 or "420," known by advocates around the world as an unofficial day of marijuana celebration.
Mr Schumer's bill is co-sponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders (Independent-Vermont), Tim Kaine (Democrat-Virginia) and Tammy Duckworth (Democrat-Illinois). New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker' Marijuana Justice Act as also been introduced in both the House and Senate, and is co-sponsored by Senators Kamala Harris (Democrat-California) and Jeff Merkley (Democrat-Oregon).
Mr Schumer has previously been unsure about marijuana legalisation, taking a "watchful waiting" approach, telling reporters in 2014, "I want to see how it works in a variety of states," and adding "We should leave it up to the states, and let's have an experiment. Colour me watchful."
The news comes as Oklahoma has voted to legalise medical marijuana. The move in a traditionally Republican state signalled to many advocates that there is wide-ranging and bi-partisan support for marijuana legalisation.
In a statement released on Medium earlier this year, Mr Schumer explained that he "changed [his] stance on marijuana" due to increased public support for its decriminalization. "When I first came to Congress in 1981, only 1 in 4 Americans believed marijuana should be made legal," he said. "Today that number has climbed to nearly two thirds, a record high."
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies