WASHINGTON – The United States Senate is about to make history, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who is vowing to use his new perch to pass a marijuana decriminalization measure. There’s a hang up, though: Seven months into this new Congress. Schumer doesn’t even have a bill yet.
The New York Democrat has teamed up with Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) to craft a progressive measure that ends the federal prohibition of cannabis while also directing revenue from marijuana legalization towards the communities left blighted by the decades long ‘war on drugs.’
“If they are listening to their constituents, and this is being done all over the country, they’re going to move of their own volition.”Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)
“This is monumental because at long last we are taking steps in the Senate to right the wrongs of the failed war on drugs,” Schumer said at a press conference at the Capitol. “I was the first Democratic leader to come out for the legalization of marijuana, and I will use my clout as majority leader to make this a priority in the Senate.”
Federal marijuana policies are outdated now that Washington, D.C., many U.S. territories and 19 states have now legalized recreational marijuana and 37 states now permit it for medical purposes. Schumer hopes to change this by moving what has been titled The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act quickly through the Senate — well, as quickly as the usually staid Senate can work with the filibuster still in place.
The measure is currently only a draft of dreams, but it provides insight into what might be coming down soon from Schumer, Wyden and Booker — three powerful lawmakers who are still getting input from their colleagues as they mold competing ideas into a politically viable bill.
Schumer’s powerful influence as majority leader will be tested, especially because he’s overshadowed by another Democrat: President Joe Biden, who is one of marijuana’s biggest foes in Washington.
Marijuana has become a bipartisan issue, especially when it comes to large to small banks who are lobbying Congress hard to let marijuana businesses finally join the U.S. financial sector. That’s why proponents aren’t interested in a bill that helps big banks and not real people.
“To just do it so some people can get rich and not do something about the people who are languishing with criminal conviction, not do something on restorative justice, not do something to make sure the business opportunities created are given a fair playing field,” Booker passionately told the press, “I don’t know about other members of the Senate, but I will lay myself down to do everything I can to stop an easy banking bill that’s going to allow all these corporations to make a lot more money off of this, as opposed to focusing on the restorative justice aspect.”
“I don’t know about other members of the Senate, but I will lay myself down to do everything I can to stop an easy banking bill that’s going to allow all these corporations to make a lot more money off of this, as opposed to focusing on the restorative justice aspect.”Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)
Ultimately the proposed bill seeks to fully legalize marijuana and give all states the autonomy to choose what they please on cannabis laws. On top of that, it would open the door to widespread research into the substance, federal funding for grant programs, expungement of federal non-violent cannabis records and much more.
However, removing federal penalties doesn’t guarantee states that haven’t already legalized marijuana will follow suit. But Schumer is not worried about state differences.
“They have to catch up to probably where their public is,” Schumer stated.
To get the measure through the Senate, these Democrats will need GOP votes, and some Republicans remain fiercely opposed to marijuana, even though it is now legally consumed by millions of Americans.
“But it will be their option. And that is why, for the life of me, I don’t understand how Republicans who say they are for states’ rights won’t support what my colleagues are talking about,” Wyden said. “What this bill does is, we decriminalize at the federal level, but we don’t require states to legalize, so this speaks right to what the majority leader is saying — if they are listening to their constituents — and this is being done all over the country — they’re going to move of their own volition.”
“This is monumental because at long last we are taking steps in the Senate to right the wrongs of the failed war on drugs.”Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
Despite Schumer advocating for “quick” movement of this measure, the truth is there’s no timeline for passage (or even the potential failure) of the measure. Though, for every day Americans who bear the burden of federal marijuana penalties, this draft of dreams brings them one step closer to a new way of life.
“This is a grievous reality. Lives are being destroyed every single day,” Booker said.
It’s not just unfair, Booker says, it’s a double standard perpetuated by the nation’s political class.
“And the hypocrisy of this is that, right here in the Capitol, now people running for Congress, people running for Senate, people running for President of the United States readily admit that they’ve used marijuana,” Booker continued, “but we have children in this country — people all over this nation, our veterans, Black and Brown people, low-income people — now bearing the stain of having a criminal conviction for doing things that half of the last four presidents admitted to doing.”