• March 4, 2021

Schumer Signals Eagerness for Marijuana, Justice Reform

 Schumer Signals Eagerness for Marijuana, Justice Reform

Photo by Matt Laslo

WASHINGTON, D.C. — For years the U.S. Senate has blocked House-passed marijuana reform bills — from overhauling the banking system for cannabis firms to outright decriminalizing marijuana federally — from even being voted on, but Mitch McConnell is now Minority Leader. And the new Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, is signaling a bullishness when it comes to all things marijuana. This time around, that includes criminal justice reform.

In 2018, the now-Majority Leader introduced his own bill to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, but instead of taking the lead on his own again, he announced this year he’s waiting to hear from more of his members before dropping a proposal.

Today he said he’s teaming up with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to unleash a new cannabis bill sooner than later in this new Congress. One they promise will address systemic racism and the wreckage the war on ‘drugs’ has left in many urban communities over the past few decades.

“The War on Drugs has been a war on people — particularly people of color,” the three Democrats said in a statement released today. “Ending the federal marijuana prohibition is necessary to right the wrongs of this failed war and end decades of harm inflicted on communities of color across the country. But that alone is not enough. As states continue to legalize marijuana, we must also enact measures that will lift up people who were unfairly targeted in the War on Drugs.”

The debate has shifted from mere decriminalization — or even legalization — of marijuana to one that addresses racial disparities.

“We are committed to working together to put forward and advance comprehensive cannabis reform legislation that will not only turn the page on this sad chapter in American history, but also undo the devastating consequences of these discriminatory policies. The Senate will make consideration of these reforms a priority,” the trifecta continued.

After last year’s election House Democratic leaders moved on the MORE Act, which made history when it passed by becoming the first legislation to pass either chamber of Congress and unwind even a sliver of the war on ‘drugs.’ Waiting until after the election was a strategic blunder, according to progressives who say they were proven right on Election Day after five states voted overwhelmingly to legalize cannabis.

That’s partly why this time around, at least in the Senate, they’re promising to make marijuana reform an early priority for the party.

“In the early part of this year, we will release a unified discussion draft on comprehensive reform to ensure restorative justice, protect public health and implement responsible taxes and regulations,” Sens. Schumer, Booker and Wyden write. “Getting input from stakeholder groups will be an important part of developing this critical legislation.”

Matt Laslo

Based in Washington, Matt Laslo is a veteran political and music reporter. Since 2006, he’s been a contributor with VICE News, VICE News Tonight HBO, The Daily Beast, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Billboard, The Atlantic, NPR, etc. He’s taught journalism at Boston University (MA) and The University of Maryland (BA). And he teaches political communications at The Johns Hopkins University MA in Government and Public Policy program. He can be found on most all social media platforms as @MattLaslo.

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