Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Thursday discussed his strategy for getting enough votes to pass his federal marijuana legalization bill, describing the process of soliciting feedback on the legislation from colleagues and working to incorporate any requested “modifications” in order to get the measure across the finish line.
It was just last week that Schumer unveiled a 163-page draft version of the reform legislation alongside Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). While they made clear that public input is valued—and they’ve created an email account where people can submit comments until September 30 on the proposal—the new comments provide a fresh insight into the legislative process to build support for the measure within the Senate.
“We’re now going around to our colleagues saying, ‘Would you sign onto the bill? And if you don’t like what’s in the bill and want some modifications, tell us,'” he told ABC’s The View. “I want to get this done. And I think we will get it done because it’s so, so overwhelmingly supported by the American people.”
Americans want an end to marijuana prohibition.
We are working to end the federal prohibition and repair the harms done by the War on Drugs.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) July 22, 2021
There have been some serious questions about whether the three senators will be able to muster the 60 votes needed to pass the legislation in their chamber. Even with a slim Democratic majority in the Senate, there are some members of Schumer’s own party who’ve expressed concerns about the comprehensive reform.
In the days following the introduction of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), Booker had repeatedly stressed that he wants to see this legislation pass before allowing incremental reform to advance such as a bipartisan bill to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.
Last week, the senator vowed to “lay myself down” to block any other senators who seek to pass marijuana banking legislation before the body approves comprehensive cannabis reform, igniting the controversy.
He’s taken some criticism from stakeholders on that position—though he clarified on Wednesday he simply feels that holding off on voting on the banking reform as a “sweetener” could encourage his colleagues to support more comprehensive legislation.
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In any case, Schumer argued on Thursday that marijuana legalization overall is an overdue policy change.
“It’s been so over-criminalized at the federal level—it’s treated like heroin or cocaine, very much more serious drugs,” he said. “Even worse, we have a person who has a small amount of marijuana—a young person—in their pocket [they] can get arrested, have a such a serious criminal record as if they were selling a whole lot of heroin [and] they can almost never recover.”
“First we want to legalize it to make sure that the people who want to use it can use it without this over-criminalization,” Schumer said. “Secondly, we want to expunge records of people who had a small amount of marijuana in their pockets and are then hurt the rest of their lives. We’d love them to be productive citizens.”
The majority leader said voter initiatives on reform in traditionally conservative states like South Dakota clearly demonstrate that “Americans are for legalization.”
The View host Whoopi Goldberg, an advocate and marijuana business owner, could be heard giving an enthusiastic off-screen “yeah” at the senator’s closing remarks.
“That was a Whoopi ‘yeah,'” Schumer guessed.
“As expected, that was Whoopi,” a co-host confirmed.
All three senators formally started their efforts on the legalization bill by holding a meeting earlier this year with representatives from a variety of advocacy groups to gain feedback on the best approach to the reform.
Schumer made a point in March to say that it will specifically seek to restrict the ability of large alcohol and tobacco companies to overtake the industry. Instead, it will prioritize small businesses, particularly those owned by people from communities most impacted by prohibition, and focus on “justice, justice, justice—as well as freedom,” he said.
He also urged voters to reach out to their congressional representatives and tell them that “this is long overdue.”
Meanwhile, a separate House bill to federally legalize marijuana and promote social equity in the industry was reintroduced in May.
The legislation, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), was filed with a number of changes compared to the version that was approved by the chamber last year.