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Chuck Schumer Says Marijuana Legalization Will Be Prioritized If Democrats Retake Senate

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a new interview that if Democrats retake control of his chamber, he will prioritize advancing marijuana legalization legislation.

In a video chat hosted by Green Enterprise last week, Schumer discussed his cannabis reform bill, which would federally deschedule the plant, reinvest tax revenue into communities most impacted by the drug war and fund efforts to expunge prior marijuana records.

He said the state-level legalization movement has demonstrated that the policy works, and it’s a necessary step to promote racial equity.

“I’m a big fighter for racial justice, and the marijuana laws have been one of the biggest examples of racial injustice, and so to change them makes sense,” he said. “And that fits in with all of the movement now to bring equality in the policing, in economics and in everything else. Our bill is, in a certain sense, at the nexus of racial justice, individual freedom and states’ rights.”

Schumer’s legislation, the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, was first introduced in 2018 and was refiled last year with a House companion version.

If he’s reinstalled as senate majority leader, the top Democrat said he “will put this bill in play,” adding “I think we’ll have a good chance to pass it.”

States that have legalized adult-use marijuana have helped normalize the policy and revealed the benefits of reform, the senator said, and if voters approve additional legalization measures during the election next week, that will further bolster the chances of federally ending prohibition.

“It helps push things over. What happens then is the people in those states say, ‘see, this was a good thing,'” he said. “All the people who were, you know, wah-wah-wah, something terrible is gonna happen, lose their credibility.”

But he reiterated that, in order to legalize at the federal level, voters need to put Democrats back in control of Congress.

“If I become majority leader, I put this on the floor and it’s likely to pass. So, how do I become majority leader? Well, this is a little political you’ll forgive me, Andrew, but back to the facts, you vote for a Democratic senator in your state, that’s going to make it happen,” he said. “Vote if you believe in reform here, if you believe in decriminalizing cannabis. The thing to do is vote for your Democratic Senate candidate because they’ll be part of my team to get this done.”

Schumer made similar comments in an interview with Leafly last month.

House Democratic leaders last month moved to postpose a planned floor vote on a separate marijuana descheduling and justice reinvestment bill until later this year.

Meanwhile, actor Kal Penn, who starred in the weed-focused Harold & Kumar film series and worked in the White House Office of Public Engagement during the Obama administration, praised Schumer’s cannabis stance.

“You don’t have to be a stoner (or play one) to change marijuana laws. Had a great call with @SenSchumer this eve,” he tweeted. “He’s committed to decriminalization if he’s Senate Majority Leader after the election. One of the many reminders of why voting matters + progress takes hard work.”

The senator has become a strong ally for comprehensive cannabis reform. Last year, for example, he sided with reform advocates who argued that passing a bill to protect banks that service the marijuana industry was not enough.

“Congress should not enact banking reform alone and think the job is done,” he said. “We need decriminalization at the federal level, criminal justice reform, and investment in opportunity for minority & women-owned small businesses.”

Schumer is also a champion of the hemp industry, particularly in New York. He said at an event at a hemp business last year that the state is especially well positioned to take advantage of the crop’s legal status, stating that “our soil, our weather, our conditions are very good for industrial hemp, so we could become one of the centers of growing.”

Also at the event, he called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to extend a public comment period for its proposed hemp regulations, citing concerns about certain prohibitive rules. The federal agency did end up reopening the feedback window this year.

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Photo courtesy of Senate Democrats.

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